President Trump Criticizes China During His Virtual Speech At U.N. General Assembly More world leaders than usual are expected to speak at the U.N. General Assembly this year because of its virtual format. In his video message, Trump came out swinging against Beijing.

President Trump Criticizes China During His Virtual Speech At U.N. General Assembly

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The United Nations secretary-general had a stark warning as the annual General Assembly kicked off today - the world cannot afford a new Cold War. Antonio Guterres cautioned that the rift between the United States and China could lead to a global fracture. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, that divide was on full display today.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Even as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 200,000 today, President Trump was boasting about his government's response.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy - the China virus - which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries.

KELEMEN: In a videotaped message, Trump said the U.S. produced a record supply of ventilators to share with friends and has three vaccines in the final stages of clinical trials. Trump defended his decision to pull out of the World Health Organization mid-pandemic, saying the WHO was, quote, "virtually controlled by China."


TRUMP: We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world - China.

KELEMEN: When it was his turn to speak, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the General Assembly to reject efforts to politicize the pandemic. Speaking through an interpreter, he said globalization is a reality and suggested that Trump is tilting at windmills.


PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) Trying to fight it with Don Quixote's lance goes against a trend of history. Let us be clear. The world will never return to isolation, and no one can sever the ties between countries.

KELEMEN: The speeches were pre-recorded. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was one of the few to speak in person, warning that this U.S.-China rift is taking the world down a dangerous path.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: Our world cannot afford the future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture, each with its own trade and financial rules and Internet and artificial intelligence capacities.

KELEMEN: President Xi made clear that China is not interested in a new Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin also portrayed himself as someone who believes in international cooperation.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) We are proposing to hold an online high-level conference shortly for countries interested in cooperation in the development of anti-coronavirus vaccines. We are ready to share our experience and continue cooperating with all states and international entities.

KELEMEN: He's even offering Russia's vaccine free to U.N. staffers. Putin also took a swipe at the U.S. for what he called illegitimate sanctions. Iran's president said his country is grappling with the harshest sanctions in history. Speaking through an interpreter, Hassan Rouhani accused the U.S. of arrogance and bullying.


PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) They have sold hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to their clients, turning our region into a powder keg.

KELEMEN: President Trump called Iran the leading state sponsor of terror and touted his decisions to pull out of the nuclear deal with that country and to kill a top Iranian general. Trump predicted more Arab states, with U.S. encouragement, will normalize ties with Israel as part of what he calls the dawn of a new Middle East.


TRUMP: America is fulfilling our destiny as peacemaker, but it is peace through strength.

KELEMEN: America's weapons are, in his words, at an advanced level like we've never seen before.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.


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