Secretary General António Guterres warned the United States General Assembly in New York on Tuesday that the world was increasingly defined by the “great rift” between Washington and Beijing.
In a fateful speech, he said the United States and China are moving “in a very dangerous direction,” with divisions based on trade and technology that could easily escalate into military conflict.
“We have to do everything we can to avoid a new Cold War. We are moving in a very dangerous direction,” said Guterres at the largely virtual summit. “Our world cannot afford a future in which the two largest economies split the globe in a big break.”
He added, “A technological and economic divide can inevitably turn into a geostrategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”
The summit marked the 75th anniversary of the United States, but there was little to celebrate.
Instead, Guterres warned world leaders that the “four riders” He had previously warned – geopolitical tensions, the climate crisis, “growing global distrust” and “the dark side” of the Internet – to which a “fifth rider” had joined: the corona virus.
“Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of the world: increasing inequalities, climate disasters, increasing social divisions, rampant corruption,” he said, evoking the spirit of the birth of the United Nations in 1945 by telling world leaders that they are now faced with their own. fundamental moment. “
Although President Donald Trump has at times praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, relations between the world’s two most powerful economies have hit new lows during the coronavirus crisis.
Trump and his administration have argued with China over trade, its expansion into the South China Sea, crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong and allegations of human rights abuses against the Muslim Uighur minority.
Xi appeared via video link and told the gathering that his country had no intention of “either waging a cold war or a hot war with any country.”
Xi called on the countries to “strengthen solidarity and hold out together” – perhaps an implicit criticism of Trump’s often controversial, independent approach. “Any attempt to politicize or stigmatize the issue must be rejected.”
Trump used his recorded speech to attack Beijing directly.
“We need to hold the nation that unleashed this plague on the world accountable, China,” he said. “The Chinese government and the World Health Organization, which is practically controlled by China, have falsely stated that there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
Zhang Jun, the country’s ambassador to the United States, dismissed Trump’s claims as “unfounded”, saying that “lies repeated a thousand times are still lies”.
Xi continued to differentiate himself from Trump by announcing in his speech that China will transition to carbon neutrality before 2060 and reach its emissions before the end of the decade.
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“We urge all countries to pursue innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all,” Xi said, adding the world should commit to making a “green recovery” from Covid-19.
Xi also spoke of the importance of meeting the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which Trump wants to step back from.
The announcement “surprised many of us,” said Li Shuo, chief climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace in Beijing. “It is clearly a carefully calculated move, just minutes after President Trump’s speech, to maximize the contrast in climate resolution between China and the US.”
China has previously been criticized for including coal-fired power plants as part of its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, while the Trump administration eased some industrial pollution regulations.
China is the world’s largest polluter, causing 28 percent of global CO2 emissions. However, Americans are responsible for 15 percent, more than twice that per capita.