US vs China: two new world orders on display as the UN turns 75, with Xi calling for collaboration and Trump slamming Beijing for coronavirus pandemic
Sarah Zheng, Jacob Fromer in Washington and Phoebe Zhang in Shenzhen
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for multilateralism, peace and collaboration as he addressed the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, striking a contrast to his contentious US counterpart Donald Trump, whose speech earlier in the morning was mostly a scathing critique of Beijing.
“China is the largest developing country in the world and is committed to peaceful, open, cooperative and common developing,” Xi said in a pre-recorded speech to the assembly, which was held virtually in response to the coronavirus pandemic. “We will never seek hegemony and expansion, will not seek a sphere of influence, do not have any intention to engage in hot or cold war with any country.”
Xi added that China would cooperate with other countries in fighting the pandemic, continuing to share treatment technology and experience, as well as participate in scientific research. He said that China also promised to provide vaccines to developing countries on a priority basis once they have been developed and put into use.
The coronavirus outbreak isn't the last crisis humanity will face and the world must be ready to embrace more globally challenges together, he said.
“Countries are closely connected, and mankind shares a common destiny. No country can profit from the difficulties of other countries and gain stability from the turbulence of other countries,” he said.
In his pre-recorded address, Trump lashed out at China, saying the country had “unleashed” the coronavirus on the world and polluted the environment at extreme levels with impunity.
“We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy: the China virus,” Trump said.
He also accused China of dumping “millions and millions of tons” of trash into the oceans, of overfishing, and of polluting the world’s air. Trump has faced intense criticism in the US for his own efforts to weaken environmental protection rules.
“Those who attack America's exceptional environmental record while ignoring China's rampant pollution are not interested in the environment,” said Trump. “They only want to punish America.”
Other leaders, including the presidents of Brazil, Russia, South Korea and France, addressed the assembly on Tuesday. But the speeches by Xi and Trump, leaders of the world’s two largest economies, offered sharply differing visions of the international order.
Xi told a ceremony on Monday for the UN’s 75th anniversary that China would “firmly uphold” the multilateral system around the UN. In a veiled swipe at the United States, Xi also rejected efforts by any country to “be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world”.
“The UN has stood one test after another and emerged with renewed vigour and vitality,” he said. “China will continue to be a true follower of multilateralism.”
On Tuesday, Xi built on that theme, also calling for countries to face the challenges brought by economic globalisation, such as the gap between the rich and the poor and the development gap, uphold the concept of openness and tolerance, oppose unilateralism and protectionism.
He said the world needed to embrace green development and declared that China would strive to reach the peak of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
He declared that China would donate US$50 million more to the UN's Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, and would set up the third phase of the China-United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization South-South Cooperation Trust Fund with another US$50 million.
China will also extend its UN Peace and Development Fund for five years after its expiration in 2025, as well as establish a UN Global Geographic Information Knowledge and Innovation Centre and an International Research Centre for Sustainable Development Big Data.
Trump was also scheduled to speak at the Monday event but was a no-show. Instead, the US acting deputy permanent UN representative, Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet, spoke, accusing the UN of being resistant to meaningful reform, lacking transparency and being vulnerable to “the agenda of autocratic regimes and dictatorships”.
“For the Trump administration, this anniversary is an important moment to mark the many successes of the United Nations, but to do so with clear eyes and a renewed determination to see this important body serve its intended purpose,” she said.
Amid fears of a new cold war brought on the China-US rivalry, Beijing has sought to expand its global influence while the Trump administration has sparred with multilateral institutions.
This has accelerated in recent months as differences over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, technology, as well as Beijing’s actions in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea have grown.
Pang Zhongying, director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at Renmin University in Beijing, said he expected Trump to be even tougher on China as part of his presidential re-election bid.
“This year, he has sufficient bullets to focus his fire on China, including from the pandemic,” Pang said. “It will be a more combative speech from him as he continues to attack [presidential contender Joe] Biden and the globalists.
“He will likely justify the WHO withdrawal and concerns about these multilateral institutions as being too good to China, or even claiming that China controls them.”
But Pang said the US relationship with the United Nations was complex, and Washington’s links to the UN and the international order it symbolised remained strong, if under attack.
“If Trump and Xi exchange fire in their speeches, we may see a contrast between them that is too great,” he said. “But even if gunpowder is thick in the air, if they can still find some common ground between them. Even with all the tensions, we can breathe a little relief.”
At last year’s UN General Assembly, Trump took aim at China for failing to liberalise its economy and uphold democratic freedoms in Hong Kong. He also spoke at length about the need to defend national interests and sovereignty.
“The future does not belong to globalists,” Trump said. “The future belongs to patriots.”
In contrast, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, last year stressed the need to ward against unilateralism and protectionism, insisting that the permanent members of the UN Security Council – including China and the US – needed to “lead by example” to maintain the international system.
“The international order needs to go by laws and rules, and acts in violation of international norms can only plunge the world into chaos,” he said.
Sarah Zheng joined the Post as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from Tufts University with a degree in international relations and film and media studies. She reports on China's foreign policy.
Jacob Fromer has reported from Beijing and Washington. He has a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Phoebe Zhang is a society reporter with the Post. She has a master's degree in journalism.