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G7 nations were unable to agree a formal joint statement on tackling the coronavirus because the Trump administration wanted to call the pandemic the “Wuhan virus”.
While the foreign ministers of the US, the UK, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, and Canada agreed a set of priorities and actions on Wednesday to respond to the unprecedented challenge of the outbreak, they failed to reach consensus on a joint declaration because of the US position.
An early draft of a potential common statement circulated by the US to the other delegations called the disease “Wuhan Virus” throughout and recalled how "from the PRC [People’s Republic of China] government’s own accounts, the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019, or earlier."
The draft, which BuzzFeed News has seen, was highly critical of China’s response to the crisis. "Countries have a special obligation to share information about potential global health risks. When information is restricted, the consequences can be devastating for people across the globe," the document read.
It went on to say: "This is particularly relevant for the Wuhan virus, which could have been halted or mitigated if China had not suppressed critical scientific data when it was first available. We call on China and other countries to commit to full transparency, so that we can rapidly find solutions to this virus and so the world does not face another pandemic in the future."
The G7 dispute was first reported by the German magazine Spiegel.
After the meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: “With the unprecedented global challenge of confronting the #WuhanVirus, cooperation with our partners is more important than ever.”
Two senior European diplomats told BuzzFeed News that the use of the term was unacceptable to European governments.
One insisted that the stark difference on language was just a detail and that the G7 were in agreement on the substance of how to deal with the pandemic.
The other diplomat, however, said that despite a common position on the bigger picture, the lack of a joint declaration meant that everyone risked interpreting what was agreed differently.
The US, which is hosting this year’s G7, had also asked the other six members to call out “the deliberate propagation of false narratives by China, Russia, Iran, and non-state actors, which attempt to shift the blame to the United States for creating and spreading the virus." The draft said: "We call on all countries to speak truth, not lies. Saving lives is more important than saving face."
The meeting of foreign ministers was meant to be held in Pittsburgh this week but they met virtually instead in response to the pandemic. The seven nations agreed key principles and a set of actions, and each released their own statements after the videoconference.
The UK’s Foreign Office listed the critical areas for international action as preventing further crises and strengthening resilience of the most vulnerable countries, tackling the immediate health emergency by helping to fund the World Health Organization (WHO), protecting global production and supply chains and working together to help ensure an economic recovery after the crisis, keeping global travel routes open, and protecting democracies against disinformation.