7-nation virtual conference: India pitches for enhanced anti-pandemic cooperation

Amid the evolving international landscape in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a video-conference with the foreign ministers of six countries, including India and other like-minded democracies.India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar participated in the video conference on COVID-19, which was also attended by foreign ministers from Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. “Secretary Pompeo and his counterparts discussed the importance of international cooperation, transparency, and accountability in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and in addressing its causes,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

Although there was no immediate official statement from India, Mr Jaishankar, in a tweet post, later said that it was a broad discussion on the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the possible measures for an early recovery. He termed the meeting as “productive”. He added that the “conversation covered pandemic response, global health management, medical cooperation, economic recovery, and travel norms; and I look forward to continuing this engagement.”It was one of the several talks Mr Jaishankar had with Mr Pompeo since March. They also had conversations on COVID-19 on April 23, during which Mr Jaishankar assured his US counterpart the availability of medical supplies. They also discussed bilateral and international cooperation to mitigate the crisis.

The latest conference assumes importance in the backdrop of a bitter war of words between the US and China over a host of issues including COVID-19, trade, and the alleged failure of the World Health Organization (WHO) in identifying the potential threat posed by the virus in the early stage of its outbreak. “The meeting discussed collaboration toward preventing future health crises, and reaffirming the importance of the rules-based international order,” Mr Ortagus said.

France, the UK, Germany, and several other European countries, as well as the US, and Australia have raised questions about China’s transparency in the handling of COVID-19, which may have contributed to its growth into a full-blown global pandemic. Mr Pompeo and President Donald Trump have accused China of suppressing information following reports of illegal detention of whistleblowers forewarning the contagious nature of the virus surfaced. They also seemed to have supported the theory that the virus may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China.  Beijing has rejected these charges many times in the past weeks.

Amid a rapid increase of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the US, Mr Trump announced to cut American funding to the WHO and called for a comprehensive reform of the UN body to prevent future catastrophes. The clarion call for reform has found a resonance in India, which has been calling for an all-encompassing improvement of the UN, including the WHO, mainly concerning the skewed representation of poor and developing nations in decision making bodies. The US is worst affected by COVID-19 with over 80,000 deaths and 1,347,000 confirmed cases, according to the latest statistics from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, the fatalities stood at over 286,000 and 4,178,000 detected cases.

(Sanjeeb Baruah contributed inputs for this article)


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