The United Nations’ annual General Assembly high level debate week is usually a very big deal on the diplomatic calendar. World leaders have traditionally assembled in New York with their entourages, delivered their perspectives on the state of the world in long-winded speeches, and conducted numerous conferences and bilateral side meetings on a variety of global issues. Of course, the world leaders were also busy attending a multitude of fancy receptions. This year, however, is very different due to the coronavirus pandemic. The UN headquarters building is eerily quiet. There are no foreign dignitaries to be seen. Speeches by heads of state and heads of government are being delivered via prerecorded videos. Although President Trump could have delivered his speech in person, he opted not to make the trip to New York and speak in front of a few UN ambassadors in a virtually empty General Assembly chamber. But President Trump nevertheless delivered via video his usual tour de force.
President Trump wasted no time holding China responsible for the global spread of the coronavirus. “We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy — the China virus — which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries,” President Trump said. The United Nations “must hold China accountable.” He noted how China had criticized his restrictions on travel from China even though China had “locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world.” The president then recounted his administration’s unprecedented mobilization of resources to defeat the virus, including the progress being made to develop potential vaccines. “We will distribute a vaccine, we will defeat the virus, we will end the pandemic, and we will enter a new era of unprecedented prosperity, cooperation and peace,” he declared.
President Trump also took China to task for its record on the environment and its hypocrisy regarding its participation in the “one-sided” Paris Agreement on climate change from which the United States has withdrawn. China, he said, has dumped millions and millions of tons of plastic and trash into the ocean. It “emits more toxic mercury into the atmosphere than any country anywhere in the world.” President Trump added that “China’s carbon emissions are nearly twice what the U.S. has, and it’s rising fast.”
The U.S. president challenged the UN to remain relevant in dealing with the many problems besetting the world today. “If the United Nations is to be an effective organization, it must focus on the real problems of the world,” he said. “This includes terrorism, the oppression of women, forced labor, drug trafficking, human and sex trafficking, religious persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.”
President Trump extolled America’s economic and international security leadership in pursuing peace with strength. He also pointed to the historic agreements his administration brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain, as well as the one between Kosovo and Serbia. Inexplicably, the UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres made no mention of these agreements in the remarks he delivered in person before President Trump’s speech.
“By taking a different approach, we have achieved different outcomes — far superior outcomes,” President Trump said. He predicted “more peace agreements shortly.”
As President Trump has done in the past, he explained that putting one’s own country first is not incompatible with multilateral cooperation. In fact, they reinforce each other. He said that “only when you take care of your own citizens will you find a true basis for cooperation.” He concluded his speech asking for God’s blessing for America and the United Nations.
China did not take long to release a rebuttal press statement accusing the United States of “spreading political virus.” China’s press statement is a shameless exercise in blame-shifting and deception.
The press statement charged that the United States was “abusing the platform of the United Nations to provoke confrontation and create division,” adding that “the United States is weakening the UN, the WHO and other UN bodies, and undermining the authority and effectiveness of the UN.” The press release then tried to defend China’s indefensible record on dealing with the coronavirus. It made the false claim that “China, with an open, transparent, and responsible attitude, has been giving updates and sharing experience with the WHO and other countries from the very beginning and providing active assistance to many countries, including the United States.”
China’s President H.E. Xi Jinping’s General Assembly speech, which followed shortly after President Trump’s remarks, was also prerecorded. While President Xi did not himself have the opportunity to reply in real time to President Trump’s extensive criticisms of China’s behavior, he obviously anticipated what President Trump would have to say about the coronavirus. Taking a not too subtle dig at President Trump’s frequent labeling of the coronavirus as the “China virus” and the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization, President Xi declared: “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 to beat this pandemic. Any attempt of politicizing the issue or stigmatization must be rejected.”
President Xi tried to portray China as the leader of multilateralism in dealing with the virus, ignoring the indisputable evidence of the Chinese regime’s refusal to make full disclosure of what it knew early on about the highly contagious nature of the virus’s human-to-human transmission. “China is actively involved in the international fight against COVID-19, contributing its share to upholding global public health security,” President Xi said with a straight face.
“COVID-19 reminds us that we are living in an interconnected global village with a common stake,” President Xi added. “No country can gain from others’ difficulties or maintain stability by taking advantage of others’ troubles.”
Then why did the Communist China regime hide the truth about the coronavirus from the world when the virus could have been contained, hoard critical medical supplies imported from countries abroad to meet its own immediate needs, and then sell the supplies back to those countries at inflated prices after they became Covid-19 infected? President Xi’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.
President Xi urged the world to “uphold the multilateral trading regime with the World Trade Organization as the cornerstone.” Only so long as his regime can continue bilking the world on its way to prosperity by manipulating the global trading system will President Xi support the World Trade Organization and, in his words, “stay true to multilateralism and safeguard the international system with the UN at its core.”
Finally, the United States has a president courageous enough to see through the empty rhetoric of such phony multilateralism and tell China and the rest of the world the truths they do not want to hear.