China, U.S. coronavirus tensions spill over in U.N. Syria meeting


New York (Reuters) – Growing tensions between China and the United States around the coronavirus pandemic publicly spilled over on Tuesday during a U.N. Security Council meeting on humanitarian aid operations in Syria as envoys traded barbs over global leadership.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft called on China “to validate its claims of global leadership in combating COVID-19” by supporting “a resolution to allow the U.N. to combat this pandemic by delivering life-saving aid cross-border” into Syria.

Responding, China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said Beijing urged the United States to focus on global efforts to fight the virus, “stop playing political games and really focus on saving lives and stop diverting (from) its own responsibilities to other countries.”

The United States has questioned China’s transparency about the outbreak. Last month Washington suspended funding for the World Health Organization, accusing the U.N. agency of promoting Chinese “disinformation.” WHO denied the accusation and China said it was transparent.

A stand-off between the Security Council veto-powers has also stymied a months-long attempt by the body to agree on a resolution backing U.N. chief Antonio Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on the pandemic.

The virus has infected over 4.8 million people and 319,000 have died. It first emerged in Wuhan, China late last year.

During the Syria meeting, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock appealed for the council to renew authorization for the delivery of aid through two border crossings from Turkey, describing the access as a “lifeline for millions of civilians.”

The council in January allowed a six-year-long cross-border aid operation to continue from two places in Turkey for six months, but dropped crossing points from Iraq and Jordan because of opposition by Russia and China.

It needs to adopt a resolution to renew approval by July 10.

Craft pushed the council to re-authorize aid deliveries from the Iraq crossing point. However, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “Do not waste your time on efforts to re-open the closed cross-border points.”

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