President Donald Trump on Tuesday admonished China over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, demanding that the intergovernmental organization hold Beijing’s ruling Communist government “accountable for their actions.”
In a pre-recorded speech before the annual meeting of world leaders — rendered largely virtual as a result of the pandemic — Trump accused China of allowing flights of infected people to leave the country in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as of spreading false information with the help of the World Health Organization.
“Seventy-five years after the end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations, we are once again engaged in a great global struggle,” Trump said, invoking the “fierce battle” the United States waged against the “invisible enemy, the China Virus.”
“The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” he added.
Trump also criticized China’s environmental policies, accusing its government of allowing overfishing of foreign waters, dumping trash into the oceans and producing unacceptable levels of carbon emissions.
“Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rampant pollution are not interested in the environment,” Trump said. “They only want to punish America, and I will not stand for it.”
The president’s remarks come less than 50 days before the November election, as Trump has cast himself as tough on China while describing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as beholden to Beijing.
Apart from his fiery rhetoric, Trump also has taken an increasingly hard line against China through a variety of punitive measures related to its management of the pandemic, exertion of greater authority in Hong Kong and internment of ethnic minorities.
In his own address Tuesday before the General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping defended his government’s pandemic response and insisted China was “contributing its share to upholding global public health security.”
Xi pledged to “provide support and assistance to countries in need,” and said that when a Covid-19 vaccine is ready for use, it “will be made a global public good and will be provided to other developing countries on a priority basis.”
Xi also sought to cool diplomatic tensions related to the coronavirus, declaring that “any attempt of politicizing the issue or stigmatization must be rejected.”
“Covid-19 will not be the last crisis to confront humanity, so we must join hands and be prepared to meet even more global challenges,” he said.
Some of the Chinese president’s speech seemed to represent an implicit rebuke of his American counterpart’s earlier address.
Xi likened leaders who ignore the “indisputable reality” of economic globalization to an ostrich “burying one’s head in the sand,” and he spoke of a “common stake” shared by an “interconnected global village.”
“No country can gain from others’ difficulties or maintain stability by taking advantage of others’ troubles,” Xi said. “To … just watch from a safe distance when others are in danger will eventually land one in the same trouble faced by others.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also used his General Assembly address Tuesday to promote his government’s coronavirus messaging, touting Russia’s registration last month of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine.
Putin said Russia was willing to supply its vaccine “to other countries” and offered to vaccinate U.N. staffers “free of charge.” And despite international skepticism, he insisted the Russian vaccine had “proved reliable, safe and effective.”
Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report.