At a General Assembly held almost entirely virtually due to Covid-19, Trump delivered a speech in election campaign mode, while Chinese President Xi Jinping instead unveiled ambitious new targets to fight climate change.
As the US death toll from Covid-19 reached the grim milestone of 200,000, the highest in the world, Trump attacked Beijing and the United Nations for not stopping the disease and even used the loaded term “China virus.”
“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world — China,” Trump said in a recorded address to the General Assembly, where each nation was represented by a single, masked delegate.
“The Chinese government and the World Health Organization – which is virtually controlled by China – falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission,” Trump said, referring to initial statements by the UN health body after Beijing covered up early cases of the respiratory disease.
Trump has given notice that the United States is pulling out of the World Health Organization, to which it has been the largest contributor.
Critics say Trump is trying to shift blame for his handling of Covid-19. His rival for the November 3 elections, Democrat Joe Biden, has vowed to keep the US in the WHO, which also fights against malaria, polio and other public health scourges.
Speaking before Xi’s announcement of China’s new climate pledge, Trump — who has pulled the United States out of the Paris accord on climate change — said that his critics ignored “China’s rampant pollution.”
“They only want to punish America. And I will not stand for it,” he said.
Leaders were asked to send videos of their speeches days in advance in a — partly successful — bid to avoid technical glitches, meaning Xi could not respond to Trump’s remarks.
But China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, told reporters that Trump’s tone was “incompatible with the general atmosphere” of the world body.