World leaders have addressed an increasingly divided United Nations at its 75th General Assembly.
The annual meeting on Tuesday in New York was moved online this year because of the coronavirus, with the pandemic high on the agenda, among other issues of global concern.
In his speech as host nation, US President Donald Trump accused Beijing of spreading what he called “the China virus” and demanded the UN hold it accountable.
He defended his own handling of COVID-19 in the United States where the death toll has passed 200,000.
“We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries,” Trump said in a pre-recorded address to the UNGA that lasted less than seven minutes.
“As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.”
By contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping struck a conciliatory tone, calling for enhanced cooperation over the pandemic and stressing that China had no intention of fighting “either a Cold War or a hot one” with any other country.
Xi said attempts to politicise the pandemic should be rejected.
“China is the largest developing country in the world, a country that is committed to peaceful, open, cooperative and common development,” he added.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended his administration’s record protecting the Amazon rainforest, telling the virtual meeting his country has been wrongly portrayed as an environmental villain.
“We are victims of one of the most brutal disinformation campaigns about the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands,” Bolsonaro said.
“The Brazilian Amazon is well known to be very rich. That explains why international institutions support such campaigns based on ulterior interests, joined by self-serving and unpatriotic Brazilian associations, with the objective of harming the government and Brazil itself.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for “sincere” dialogue to settle the growing dispute with Greece over Ankara’s energy search in the eastern Mediterranean, rejecting any “harassment” by the West over the issue.
“Our priority is to settle disputes with sincere dialogue, based on international law and on an equitable basis,” Erdogan said. “However, I would like to clearly state that we will never tolerate any imposition, harassment, or attack in the opposite direction.”
NATO allies Turkey and Greece are embroiled in a maritime gas drilling dispute that has pitted Ankara against other EU member states.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani reiterated his call for an unconditional dialogue and the lifting of the “illegal blockade” imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.
“More than three years have passed since the start of the unjust and illegal blockade on the state of Qatar. Nevertheless we kept to the path towards progress and development in various fields,” Sheikh Tamim said.
He also called out the international community for failing to confront Israel for its illegal occupation of the Palestinian land.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised the next US leader must accept Tehran’s demands, ruling out compromise as Trump vies for re-election.
“We are not a bargaining chip in US elections and domestic policy,” Rouhani said. “Any US administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an international treaty to prohibit weapons in space and offered Russia’s coronavirus vaccine to UN employees for free.
“Russia is ready to provide the UN with all the necessary qualified assistance. In particular, we are offering to provide our vaccine, free of charge, for the voluntary vaccination of the staff of the UN and its offices,” Putin said.
He also said the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic renews the need for removing trade sanctions.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe would not compromise with the US over Washington’s move to reactivate sanctions on Iran, warning the so-called snapback could undermine the UN Security Council (UNSC) and increase Middle East tensions.
“We will not compromise on the activation of a mechanism that the United States is not in a position to activate on its own after leaving the agreement,” Macron said.
“This would undermine the unity of the Security Council and the integrity of its decisions, and it would run the risk of further aggravating tensions in the region.”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for a regional infectious disease control and public health initiative involving China, Japan, Mongolia, and North Korea to tackle health crises and lay the foundation for peace with Pyongyang.
“In the face of the COVID-19 crisis that poses a greater threat to humanity than a war, we came to be acutely reminded that the safety of neighbouring countries is directly linked to that of our own,” Moon said.