New York, 22 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The United Nations General Assembly’s annual debate kicked off on Tuesday with warnings of a new cold war and US President Donald Trump attacking China as world leaders addressed the forum in pre-recorded video speeches due to the coronavirus pandemic.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the forum by warning of “a new cold war” between the United States and China.
“We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture,” he said. “A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide, and we must avoid this at all costs.”
Trump did not allay Guterres’ fears in his speech, blasting Beijing for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world – China,” he said, while also accusing Beijing and the World Health Organization of spreading false information on how the disease – which he called the “China virus” – is transmitted.
Trump also castigated China for its “rampant pollution” and environmental policies.
The US president touted his role as a “peacemaker,” highlighting the the US-brokered deals to normalize Israel’s relationships with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“These groundbreaking peace deals are the dawn of a new Middle East,” he declared.
Trump, who is standing for re-election in November, also hammered home his “America First” ideology in the speech to the UN, an organization he has often disparaged.
In his video address, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China had “no intention to fight either a cold war or a hot one with any country.”
Xi also called for solidarity in the face of the pandemic, saying: “Any attempt of politicizing the issue or stigmatization must be rejected.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended his government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, accusing the media of politicizing the virus and spreading panic while his government, “in a bold step, put in place several economic measures that prevented a greater evil.”
Turkey’s president criticized the UN for its delay in dealing with the pandemic.
“It took weeks, even months, for the Security Council, the most fundamental decision-making body of the United Nations, to include the pandemic on its agenda,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who regularly calls for UN reforms.
Speeches were also expected from Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.
The largest diplomatic gathering in the world, which typically sees thousands of dignitaries and civil society representatives descend on the UN headquarters in New York, is this year taking place largely online for the first time ever due to the pandemic and related travel restrictions.
World leaders’ pre-recorded video speeches are being broadcast in the cavernous General Assembly Hall, which is largely empty, with only one representative per state present.
There had been some speculation that Trump would speak live, but last week, aides said he had decided against it.
The usual hundreds of side events and informal meetings on the margins, where diplomatic breakthroughs often happen, are lacking this year, leading UN expert Richard Gowan from the think tank Crisis group to predict a “fairly boring” general debate.
The debate comes a day after the UN held a largely online event to mark its 75th anniversary.