International discord over the Covid-19 response played backdrop to the latest UN Security Council talks, as the world enters a second year of grappling with a pandemic that has been marked by geopolitical tensions and a lack of global coordination. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for countries to work together at the meeting on Wednesday focused on global Covid-19 vaccine access. “We can defeat this disease. We can get our economies running again. I am convinced it is possible. Let’s make it happen, together,” he said. The international community faces looming challenges with gaping inequities in the vaccine roll-outs needed to ease the crisis and the global economy in its sharpest contraction since the Great Depression nearly a century ago, with observers saying cooperation is critical. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed the American commitment to multilateralism, the United Nations and the World Health Organization at the Security Council meeting. He also called for all countries – now and in the future – to “make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak” to better understand the pandemic and prepare for the next one. “Transparency, information sharing, access for international experts – these must be the hallmarks of our common approach to what is truly a global challenge,” he said. The comments, which did not mention China, come after Washington last week called on Beijing to release outbreak data over concerns about transparency during a WHO probe into the origins of the virus that causes Covid-19 in Wuhan, where it was first identified in December 2019. One political sore spot throughout the pandemic has been rising US-China tensions , with circumstances around the start of the outbreak, and whether Beijing shared information quickly enough, the focus of bitter controversy. The US in May initiated a move to exit the WHO, accusing the UN body of pandering to China. The decision was reversed when President Joe Biden took office last month. China has repeatedly defended its record of transparency during the outbreak and stressed its commitment to the WHO and research into the origins of the virus. In his comments at Wednesday’s meeting , Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke out against “division” between countries. “It is not a zero-sum game where one’s gain means the other’s loss … we need to resist prejudice, respect science, and reject disinformation and the attempts to politicise the pandemic,” he said. China has sought to play a global benefactor role during the pandemic, and Wang stressed the country’s contributions to vaccine access. He said China would donate vaccines to 53 developing countries and contribute 10 million doses to the Covax Facility , the WHO programme for fair, global vaccine access. Nick Bisley, a professor of international relations at La Trobe University in Australia, said one of the “striking features” of the pandemic was how little international cooperation there had been, with countries instead opting to use the crisis to advance their own interests, or as “grist in the geopolitical mill”. “The [latest meeting], while not as bad as the worst phases of 2020, however, put in polite terms what’s been going on for some time: major powers talking past one another and also often using the platform to advance domestic agendas,” he said. “Cooperation is only possible if states see their interests aligned … and the current geopolitical moment makes that impossible.” China and US face UN cooperation test over Britain’s push for vaccine ceasefires However, Anthony Zwi, a professor of global health and developments at the University of New South Wales, said the meeting overall was “a positive step” forward for recognition of the problems posed by Covid-19 and the potential benefits of working together to defeat it. He noted that both China and the US expressed their support for multilateralism on Wednesday, though competitive power dynamics between the two would continue in the forum. “Both the USA and China will no doubt seek to use their power and influence to promote their own narratives around the origin and emergence of Covid-19, the prerequisites for defeating it in the short term, and the structures and institutions required to protect health security in the future,” he said. “They will also seek to secure ideologic, diplomatic and economic benefits as the post-Covid world crystallises. I envisage efforts to establish a degree of consensus, while the main competitors continue to stake out their own sets of claims and visions for the future,” he said. Shortcomings in the Covid-19 response coordinated by the UN Security Council and other international bodies, including the Group of Seven and Group of 20, were highlighted in an interim report delivered to the WHO’s executive board last month. “We have failed in our collective capacity to come together in solidarity to create a protective web of human security,” an independent panel evaluating the Covid-19 response found. This week’s Security Council talks came days before a meeting of G7 rich nations, led by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which will also focus on Covid-19. Johnson and European Council President Charles Michel have both backed the concept of a global treaty on pandemics to improve global preparedness and response, which could include agreements around data sharing. But international discord may also make it difficult to build consensus around such proposals, according to health governance expert and professor Sara Davies of Griffith University in Australia. “I don’t think that the world is in the place right now to get the majority that you need to move forward with a treaty, and I wonder – would such a treaty be any stronger than the international health regulations?” she said, referring to existing global rules that bind countries to report outbreaks in their borders to the WHO within 24 hours. “You could end up with a treaty that’s not as strong,” she said.