Covid-19 a new diplomatic blame game: Need for a New International System

 The author of this blog is Khushi, 2nd-year student at  Ramaiah College of Law, Bengaluru.

An International System is so fragile that a disease that spread in one area of one country spread like fire across the globe and shut down the whole International System with a great loss to the global economy, diplomatic tension between countries, disturbance in the supply chain (fall of domestic and international trade), uncontrolled the circumstance that lead to opposing the existing government [1]and question the very foundation of International law. International law is a set of rules, agreement, norms, and treaties binding sovereign states and other entities that are legally recognized as international actors (the nations which take part and promote international relations) to achieve peace, justice, trade and friendly relations between nations.
COVID-19, which is mainly caused by the virus named 'Novel Coronavirus' or as suggested by USA "Chinese virus". The virus is named Novel Coronavirus because of its crown-like outer structure. The USA named it "Chinese Virus" as this virus is claimed to originate in China, in the city of Wuhan, to which China claims that the virus originated from the wet animal market which was illegally operated in Wuhan and was later also confirmed by WHO and the potential carrier of this virus were apparently  bats and pangolins.
COVID-19 has affected International Relations between countries severely which has caused diplomatic tension due to trade, transportation of medicine, hospital equipment for COVID-19 etc. While some leaders have accused other countries of not taking proper measures leading to the uncontrolled spread of the virus.[2]
Pandemic COVID-19 as declared by WHO (World Health Organization) has affected 215 countries or territories or areas so far with death rate crossing 317,529 with no potent medical treatment or vaccination to control the deadly virus till now which raises a very possible questions on the International system and its efficiency.

Can the World Health Organization (WHO) be held negligent in responding to the COVID-19?
If China had given prior information about the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation would have been very different now. WHO investigated the issue as soon as it received information from the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. During, the investigation Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO expert propounded that the “wholesale market in Wuhan played an important role in an outbreak of the novel coronavirus but what role it played is still unknown whether it was the source or supplemented the setting or just a mere coincidence that some cases were detected in and around the market.”.[3]

Art. 11 of IHR (International Health Regulation) puts an obligation on the WHO to share data with a proper & detailed investigation, so that states can enact protective measures to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents. Negligence of WHO towards China and the rest of the world was questioned by Donald Trump, the President of the USA in a conference where he called WHO as biased and China-centric organization [4]and pummelled its underlying warning requesting the nations to not close its border with China. He also stated that WHO is largely funded by United States money and deciding to put a hold on the money spent on W.H.O [5]on the account of them rejecting Trump’s view of banning the entry of people on the statement made by  WHO “to put a restriction on the movement of goods and people are ineffective in most cases” but this has been proven wrong on the account of the virus being highly contagious and also ignored a lot of information about novel coronavirus.

Accountability of China under International law with respect to COVID-19
The International Health Regulation (IHR), which was adopted in 2005 is an agreement between 196 countries including all member states of WHO to work together for global health security[6]. IHR is a legally binding state obligation towards the world on the spread of infectious diseases. China is a party to IHR with no reservations making itself bound by every provision including the following articles.

Art.2 states the purpose and scope of IHR prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in a way that is commensurate with and restricted to public health risk and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade[7] The IHR empowers WHO to act as the central head and put a legal obligation on the state to report disease to the rest of the world to promote global health. According to Art.6 of the IHR the WHO must be notified within 24 hours of any event that poses risk, something that could be an international public health emergency with this China as a party to IHR had a legal obligation to inform WHO about the outbreak. Art.7 future obligates parties to IHR to share all the data with WHO concerning the public health crises, China reported its first case on 17th November 2019, while the same was conveyed to the WHO on 31st December 2019[8].The thinking behind concealing the fact about coronavirus from WHO might be fear of getting questioned as Power Block[9]. Although China did not expeditiously convey the outbreak, it also rejected offers from WHO and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to observes the outbreak and help it[10].

This could be done with the feeling of getting exposed to the actual cause of the virus or with the feeling of pride and superiority as a power block (developed powerful nation). Moreover, China did not educate the WHO about the infection among 1700 front-line medical workers[11].
Despite China having experience with deadly disease i.e. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) 2002 the Chinese government took plentiful time to report COVID-19 which has not only dented China’s image globally but also proved negligence on its part towards the rest of the world imposing the world to the global health crisis.

Can a lawsuit be filed against China for its wilful negligence?
It is evident from the role of China in COVID-19 outbreak to justify its negligence towards other nationals and imposing the world to such a deadly virus with no proper information and rejection of suitable help given to them to control the outbreak. Art. 75 of the WHO constitution provides for the court’s jurisdiction for a state to file a suit against China for violation of Art. 21 and 22 of the WHO constitution. Art. 21 authorizes World Health Assembly to adopt regulations concerning i.e. IHR, and Art.22 provided “regulations adopted according to Art.21 came into force for all members after due notice has been given to their adoption by the World Health Assembly”[12]Considering the above case, one could argue with the fact that China did not have a reservation to IHR and is bound by every provision and China’s alleged violation of IHR concerning Articles 6 & 7.

Importance of a Strong International system
COVID-19 questioned the basic fundamental structure and functioning of International law and called for a strong International system to control and direct the nations with binding rules and regulations that should be based on equality. The existing International system is flawed, biased, and lacks proper guidance to promote human welfare. Donald Trump said “WHO ignored important information, lacked proper investigation, and is biased.”

Strong and well-represented international system not only ensures security to mankind but also prevents destruction and environmental loss, had there been International laws during World War I don't you think the situation would have been avoided? Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, in the conference of NAM (Non-Aligned Movement)  raised concern about the existing International system deprecated it and  urged for  international institutions that are more representative of today's world, he also “highlighted the need to promote human welfare and not focus on economic growth alone.”[13]. He stressed on the need for a system that maintains equality among nations. With the development of mankind, there will be economic growth, the relationship between them is directly proportional to each other. Growth of one leads to the growth of the other, so why not grow a civilization and then the civilization will grow its economy according to its needs and in this way, sustainable development can also be maintained.

The the main limitation of the International System highlighted by COVID-19 is how fragile it is and also opens questions on how the international system will deal with future events like this. The starting point of a determined fight against coronavirus has raised voice against the existing International system and demands for an International System that is fair, based on equality & humanity. The fight against coronavirus roots for a recommitment to set up fair International law and framework which is a more actual representation of today's world and focuses not only on economic growth but the overall growth of mankind.

[1]Sun Yu ,‘China’s effort to end coronavirus lockdown meets local opposition’, available at, ( last visited n 24th May 2020).
[2] Gordon Watts, ‘Lies, diplomacy and the Covid-19 crisis’, available at, (last visited on 27th May 2020).
[3] Hemani Sheth, ‘Wuhan market had a role to play in coronavirus outbreak, more research required: WHO’, available at,( last visited on 1st May 2020).
[4]Coronavirus: Trump attacks 'China-centric' WHO over global pandemic’, available at, (last visited on 24th May 2020).
[5] Prashasti Awasthi, ‘Trump warns WHO of fund cut for being biased towards China’, available at,(last visited on 23rd may 2020).

[6] World Health Regulation, strengthening health security by implementing the International Health

 Regulations (2005)’ available at, last visited on 30th April & 1st may 2020.

[7] ‘International Health Regulations(2005)’, available at,(last visited on 30th April & 1st may 2020).
[8] Novel Coronavirus – China, Emergencies preparedness, response’, available at,(last visited on 30th April 2020).
[9] Li Yuan, ‘Coronavirus Weakens China’s Powerful Propaganda Machine’, available at,(last visited on 25th & 27th may 2020).
[10] Donald G. McNeil Jr. and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, C.D.C. and W.H.O. Offers to Help China Have Been Ignored for Weeks’ available at,(last visited on 30th April 2020).
[11] Emily Rauhala, ‘World Health Organisation: China not sharing data on coronavirus infections among health-care workers’, available at, (last visited on 24th May 2020).

[12] ‘Constitution of the  World health Organization’, available at, (last visited on 21st & 23rd may 2020).
[13] Elizabeth Roche , ‘PM Modi calls for new template of globalization based on equality’, available at, (last visited on 26th may 2020).


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