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Republican report says coronavirus leaked from China lab - scientists still probing origins

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A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, shared with Reuters on 18 February 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

A preponderance of evidence proves the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic leaked from a Chinese research facility, said a report by US Republicans released on Monday (2 August), a conclusion that US intelligence agencies have not reached, write Jonathan Landay and Mark Hosenball, Reuters.

The report also cited "ample evidence" that Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) scientists - aided by US experts and Chinese and US government funds - were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.

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Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the report by the panel's Republican staff. It urged a bipartisan investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has killed 4.4 million people worldwide. (Graphic on global cases and deaths).

China denies a genetically modified coronavirus leaked from the facility in Wuhan - where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in 2019 - a leading but unproven theory among some experts. Beijing also denies allegations of a cover-up.

Other experts suspect the pandemic was caused by an animal virus likely transmitted to humans at a seafood market near the WIV.

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"We now believe it's time to completely dismiss the wet market as the source," said the report. "We also believe the preponderance of the evidence proves the virus did leak from the WIV and that it did so sometime before 12 September, 2019."

The report cited what it called new and under-reported information about safety protocols at the lab, including a July 2019 request for a $1.5 million overhaul of a hazardous waste treatment system for the facility, which was less than two years old.

In April, the top U.S. intelligence agency said it concurred with the scientific consensus that the virus was not man-made or genetically modified. Read more.

US President Joe Biden in May ordered US intelligence agencies to accelerate their hunt for the origins of the virus and report back in 90 days. Read more.

A source familiar with current intelligence assessments said the US intelligence community has not reached any conclusion whether the virus came from animals or the WIV.

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Competition: EU, US and the People's Republic of China participated in the Fifth Global Maritime Regulatory Summit

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On 7 September, senior government officials from the EU, the US and the People's Republic of China participated in the Fifth Global Maritime Regulatory Summit. Participants included representatives of the competition and maritime authorities responsible for regulating international liner shipping in the world's largest liner trade lanes.

The summit covered sectoral developments since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, including the challenges faced by the international container transport sector and broader issues of maritime supply chains. Participants agreed that the pandemic presented operators in shipping companies, ports and logistics services with exceptional challenges, on routes to and from the EU as well in other parts of the world.

They exchanged views on the respective actions undertaken by their jurisdictions, as well as future outlook and perspectives, including possible actions to increase the resilience of the sector. The summit takes place every two years and is a forum to foster cooperation between the three authorities. The next summit will be convened in 2023 in China.

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Reimagining a more resilient UN system with Taiwan in it

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After more than 200 million infections and over 4 million deaths and counting, the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the globe. This has created a profoundly devastating socio-economic impact on our interconnected world, with virtually no countries spared. The pandemic has disrupted global trade, exacerbated poverty, impeded education, and compromised gender equality, with middle to low income nations bearing the brunt of the burden, writes Jaushieh Joseph Wu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan) (pictured, below).

As many countries brace for another spike of the virus, prompted by the highly contagious Delta variant, the world looks up to the United Nations (UN) to ramp up comprehensive efforts to resolve the crisis, ensure better recovery, and rebuild sustainably. This is a daunting task that requires all hands on deck. It is time for the global body to welcome Taiwan, a valuable and worthy partner that stands ready to lend a helping hand.  

Over the past few months, Taiwan, like many other countries, has been dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases after almost a year of success in containing the virus. Yet, it got a handle on the situation and emerged even more ready to work with allies and partners to tackle the challenges posed by the pandemic. Taiwan’s effective response to the pandemic, its rapid capacity expansion to meet global supply chain demand, and its substantive assistance toward partner countries around the world all speak to the fact that there is no lack of compelling reasons for Taiwan to play a constructive role in the UN system.

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However, under pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the UN and its specialized agencies continue to reject Taiwan, citing the 1971 UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 (XXVI) as a legal basis for this exclusion. But the language of the resolution is crystal clear: it merely addresses the issue of China’s representation in the UN; there is no mention of Chinese claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, nor does it authorize the PRC to represent Taiwan in the UN system. The fact is, the PRC has never governed Taiwan. This is the reality and status quo across the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwanese people can only be represented on the international stage by their popularly elected government. By falsely equating the language of the resolution with Beijing’s “one China Principle,” the PRC is arbitrarily imposing its political views on the UN.

The absurdity doesn’t end there. This exclusion also obstructs the participation of Taiwan’s civil society. Taiwanese passport holders are denied access to UN premises, both for tours and meetings, while Taiwanese journalists cannot obtain accreditation to cover UN events. The only reason for this discriminatory treatment is their nationality. Barring members of Taiwan’s civil society from the UN defeats the ideal of multilateralism, contravenes the UN’s founding principles of promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and hampers the UN’s overall efforts.

For six decades, Taiwan has been providing assistance to partner countries around the world. Since the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda, it has focused on helping partners achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and, more recently, engage in antipandemic response and postpandemic recovery. Meanwhile, at home, Taiwan has fulfilled its SDGs in gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and good health and well-being, among others. Our innovative, community-based solutions are harnessing public-private partnerships for the benefit of society as a whole.

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The World Happiness Report 2021, released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranked Taiwan the happiest in East Asia, and 24th in the world. The ranking indicates how the people of a country feel about the social support they receive, and reflects in large part a country’s implementation of the SDGs. Taiwan is willing to pass on its experience and work with global partners to build a better and more resilient future for all.

At a time when the world is sounding the clarion call for climate actions and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Taiwan is actively charting a roadmap toward the goal, and has drafted dedicated legislation to facilitate this process. Climate change knows no borders, and concerted efforts are a must if we want a sustainable future. Taiwan knows this, and is working on the best ways to turn the challenges of carbon reduction into new opportunities.

In his oath of office in June this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our shared vulnerability and interconnectedness. He said that the UN, and the states and people it serves, can only benefit from bringing others to the table.

Denying partners that have the ability to contribute is a moral and material loss to the world as we seek to recover better together. Taiwan is a force for good. Now is the time to bring Taiwan to the table and let Taiwan help.

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EU-Taiwan relations: MEPs push for stronger partnership

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In a new report adopted on Wednesday (1 September), MEPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee advocate closer relations and a stronger partnership between the EU and Taiwan guided by the EU’s One China Policy, AFET.

They also hail Taiwan as a key EU partner and democratic ally in the Indo-Pacific that contributes to maintaining a rules-based order in the midst of an intensifying rivalry between the great powers in the region.

Prepare the ground for a new Bilateral Investment Agreement

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To step up cooperation, the text stresses the need to urgently begin an “impact assessment, public consultation and scoping exercise” on an EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA). MEPs highlight the importance of trade and economic relations between the two sides, including on matters relating to multilateralism and the World Trade Organization, technology such as 5G, public health, as well as essential cooperation on critical supplies such as semiconductors.

Deep concerns over Chinese military pressure against Taiwan

On another note, the report expresses grave concern over China’s continued military belligerence, pressure, assault exercises, airspace violations and disinformation campaigns against Taiwan. It urges the EU to do more to address these tensions and to protect Taiwan’s democracy and the island’s status as an important EU partner.

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MEPs insist that any change to Chinese-Taiwanese cross-strait relations must be neither unilateral nor against the will of Taiwanese citizens. They also issue a stark reminder of the direct connection between European prosperity and Asian security and of the consequences for Europe if a conflict were to extend well beyond the economic realm.

The text, which also addresses a range of other aspects and recommendations related to EU-Taiwan relations, will now be submitted to a vote in plenary. It was approved by 60 votes in favour, 4 against with 6 abstentions.

“The first European Parliament report on EU-Taiwan relations sends a strong signal that the EU is ready to upgrade its relationship with our key partner Taiwan. The Commission must now intensify EU-Taiwan relations and pursue a comprehensive enhanced partnership with Taiwan. Work on an impact assessment, public consultation and a scoping exercise on a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) with the Taiwanese authorities in preparation for negotiations to deepen our economic ties must begin before the end of this year,” said rapporteur Charlie Weimers (ECR, Sweden) after the vote.

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