China on Monday defended itself at the World Health Organization (WHO) saying the “virus does not respect borders”.

Addressing the 73rd session of World Health Assembly of WHO via video link, China’s President Xi Jinping said: “The history of human civilization is one of fighting diseases and tiding over disasters… Nor is race or nationality relevant in the face of the disease.”

Pledging $2 billion over the next two years in the fight against the deadly infection, Xi insisted WHO should “lead the global response”.

China has faced criticism over COVID-19 which appeared in the country’s central Wuhan city last December. It has spread to 188 countries and territories ever since resulting in the deaths of over 315,000 people. Over 4 million people have been infected.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], WHO has made a major contribution in leading and advancing the global response to COVID-19. Its good work is applauded by the international community. At this crucial juncture, to support WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle for saving lives as well. China calls on the international community to increase political and financial support for WHO so as to mobilize resources worldwide to defeat the virus,” Xi said.

The statement assumes significance as US has halted its funding to the world health body.

However, Xi said that people across the globe “looked out for each other and pulled together as one”.

Defending his government’s strategy against the pandemic, Xi said: “All along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility. We have provided information to WHO and relevant countries in a most timely fashion. We have released the genome sequence at the earliest possible time. We have shared control and treatment experience with the world without reservation. We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.”

He said China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries.

The Chinese president also said that China along with the UN will set up a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China. “It will ensure the operation of anti-epidemic supply chains and foster green corridors for fast-track transportation and customs clearance.”

Seeking attention for African nations, Xi said China will establish a “cooperation mechanism” for its hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals to help the continent ramp up its disease preparedness and control capacity.

Responding to a global demand for making COVID-19 vaccine, when available, free for all, Xi said: “COVID-19 vaccine, when available, will be a global public good”.

“This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries,” he added.

China also supported the call of poor countries for debt suspension.

“China is also ready to work with the international community to bolster support for the hardest-hit countries under the greatest strain of debt service, so that they could tide over the current difficulties,” he said, adding China will cooperate with G20 countries on it.

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