German chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised China for its handling of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the country didn’t share enough information on the virus with international partners.
“We have to be honest, at the beginning of the pandemic we have probably not been as transparent as we ought to have been, for example, the information released by China as to the origins of this virus and also the information policy of [the World Health Organisation] WHO,” Merkel said during a speech on Tuesday.
Merkel is one of several world leaders to criticise both China and WHO’s transparency during the early stages of COVID-19. The United States under former president Donald Trump was a persistent critic of both.
COVID-19 first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. The government initially sought to downplay the severity of the virus and was slow to notify the world on points such as human-to-human transmission.
Merkel said clear and open communication was vital for international partnerships to work.
“This is the era of multilateralism,” she said. “Multilateralism does not only mean somehow working together, muddling through but it means showing transparency.”
Merkel said leaders should “look ahead” and “strengthen WHO” in response to its failings. She said Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin WHO sent a “very good message.”
The EU reached a new investment deal with China last month and Merkel said this would bring a “new quality.” The deal has faced criticism for the weak safeguards it places on workers rights and led to suggestions that it could push the US away from the EU.
Merkel admitted there were “tensions” over things like human rights but said the two sides “have more values that we share, more positions that we hold in common.”
“I would very much like to avoid the building of blocs,” she said. “I don’t think it would do justice to many societies if we were to say this is the United States, China is over there, and we are grouping around either one or the other.”
The comments came in a speech and Q&A session at the virtual Davos Agenda conference of world leaders and senior businesses executives. Merkel’s speech focused on the need to strengthen international cooperation and invest in a green recovery from COVID-19.
The German chancellor, a scientist by background, said the world faced an “arduous” road ahead and warned recovery from the pandemic would be “much more difficult than many people think.”
“The pandemic has left deep imprints on our societies and our economies,” she said. “It is safe to say that it will determine the way we live, the way we do business over the next few years.”
Watch: Davos Agenda: New opportunities in a post-pandemic world