Concern over escalating tensions between the United States and China has taken centre stage at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warning against a “new Cold War” and the presidents of Indonesia, the Philippines and France expressing worry over the threats posed to world peace and stability by the superpower rivalry.
Opening a virtual “general debate” of world leaders – a first in the UN’s 75-year history – Guterres said on Tuesday that the world was “moving in a very dangerous direction”.
“We must do everything to avoid a new Cold War,” he said. “Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture – each with its own trade and financial rules and Internet and artificial intelligence capacities.
“A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”
The stark warning came as Washington and Beijing clash on several issues, ranging from trade, technology and the coronavirus pandemic to US support for Taiwan as well as China’s claims in the South China Sea and its crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.The rivalry between the two powers was in full display at the UNGA as US President Donald Trump, in a very short virtual speech, urged the world body to hold Beijing “accountable” for failing to contain the virus that was first recorded in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has killed more than 200,000 Americans and nearly 1 million people worldwide.
China’s ambassador rejected all accusations against Beijing as “totally baseless”.
“At this moment, the world needs more solidarity and cooperation, and not a confrontation,” UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said before introducing President Xi Jinping’s prerecorded speech.
“We need to increase mutual confidence and trust, and not the spreading of political virus.”
‘War will benefit no one’
Xi’s address contained what appeared to be an implicit rebuke to Trump, calling for a global response to the coronavirus and a leading role for the World Health Organization (WHO), which the US president has announced plans to leave.
“We should enhance solidarity and get through this together,” Xi said.
“We should follow the guidance of science, give full play to the leading role of the World Health Organization and launch a joint international response … Any attempt of politicising the issue, or stigmatisation, must be rejected.”