US President Donald Trump used his address to the annual UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday to call for China to be held accountable for the coronavirus pandemic, or what he calls “The China Virus”.
Trump is known for using his big speeches to trumpet his own achievements and go after his current bêtes noires, and this was no exception.
“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague on to the world – China,” he said.
“In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world. China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes.”
This year’s summit is being held virtually, to an empty assembly hall, with world leaders providing pre-recorded speeches. This format means there is no real debate possible among the speakers.
In his address, displayed soon after the US leader, President Xi Jinping warned of the risks of a “clash of civilisations”.
“We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. We will not seek to develop only ourselves,” he said.
In remarks released before his speech, Xi took a more open shot at the US by saying, “No country has the right to dominate global affairs, control the destiny of others, or keep advantages in development all to itself.”
Tensions are currently higher than usual between the US and China over issues including trade, technology, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China’s treatment of its Muslims in Xinjiang.
With Trump coming up for re-election this year, he appears to be ramping up the hyperbole and xenophobia in an attempt to appeal to a broader base of US voters.
In 2018 China removed the two-term limit on the presidency, effectively allowing Xi to remain in power for life.
So although Xi has no pressing electoral matters to worry him, some observers are even declaring the start of “a new Cold War”.