“People are hurting, our planet is burning” . . .
This year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), currently underway, marks the 75th anniversary of the UN’s founding. So far, it has strayed from its theme of renewing member states’ “collective commitment to multilateralism.” Separated and isolated due to the pandemic, world leaders and ministers are delivering pre-recorded speeches and attending meetings virtually. Tensions, especially among the U.S., China, and Russia, have flared over the first four days, further highlighting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ commentary lamenting the world’s lack of collaboration and unity amid momentous health and climate crises.
The UNGA as a geopolitical sparring ground . . .
Trump’s opening speech once again pointed accusatory fingers at China for the COVID-19 pandemic and reasserted the need to hold Beijing accountable. In turn, President Xi Jinping's message focused on reasserting the need for UN-centred multilateralism, particularly in action against COVID-19. Tensions reached their boiling point at the UN Security Council's ministerial meetings. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s allusions to the U.S.’s refusal to make a COVID-19 vaccine globally available triggered a bitter retort from the U.S.’s UN ambassador, Kelly Craft. Craft reasserted her president’s remarks about Beijing while calling for council members to “work together in transparency and in good faith.” Both the Russian and Chinese UN ambassadors strongly rebuked Craft’s assertions, the latter, Zhang Jun, firmly asserting that only the U.S. is responsible for its failed response against the virus.
Strongmen diplomacy leaving little room for constructive dialogue . . .
Aside from the U.S. and China butting heads, other leaders, like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, have leveraged the UNGA as a platform to air their grievances. Duterte denounced how groups in and outside his country have “weaponized” human rights to discredit his popularly-elected regime’s actions against illegal drugs. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo stand out for going against the grain. Moon called for increased international co-operation on public health. He also said that both Koreas declaring a formal end to the Korean War would be a positive step towards denuclearization on the peninsula. Widodo echoed Moon’s sentiments for collaboration, especially on COVID-19 vaccine development and equitable worldwide distribution.
- AP News: At UN, China, Russia and US clash over pandemic responses
- The Jakarta Post: Jokowi calls for equal vaccine access in UNGA address
- Yonhap News Agency: Moon proposes declaring end to Korean War, requests U.N.’s support