Donald Trump has demanded that the United Nations holds China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic as he defended his own handling of Covid-19 in America where the death toll has passed 200,000.
“We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy – the China virus – which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries,” the president said in a pre-recorded address to the UN General Assembly.
“As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague on to the world: China.”
While he blames Beijing, he has been harshly criticised for his administration’s track record in battling coronavirus, now a top issue in his bid for re-election.
Democratic opponent Joe Biden claims Mr Trump bungled the response to Covid-19 and is responsible for the US having more deaths than any other nation.
The president encouraged the reopening of US society even as the virus was spreading rapidly and holds campaign rallies where few wear face masks or practise social distancing.
But Mr Trump points to the virus’s origins in China and says the Chinese government acted irresponsibly in allowing the virus to spread.
“The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” Mr Trump said. The president also took aim at China’s environmental record and the UN itself.
“Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rampant pollution are not interested in the environment. They only want to punish America. And I will not stand for it,” he said.
Earlier in his administration, Mr Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida club and spoke warmly of their relationship, but the two nations now regularly exchange angry words and take punitive actions against each other.
Mr Xi, in his own speech, later took oblique potshots at the US and its foreign policies, cautioning that the world must “not fall into the trap of a clash of civilisations”.
“Major countries should act like major countries,” he said, casting the fight against the virus as an important exercise in international co-operation, an opportunity to “join hands and be prepared to meet even more global challenges”.
“Covid-19 reminds us that the economic globalisation is an indisputable reality and a historical trend,” Mr Xi said.
“Burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich in the face of economic globalisation or trying to fight it with Don Quixote’s lance goes against the trend of history. Let this be clear: the world will never return to isolation.”
Mr Trump is not popular at the UN and his speech this year came at a time when members are pushing back against Washington. On Monday, he declared that all US sanctions against Iran have been reimposed, a move that most of the rest of the world rejects as illegal.
His statement came shortly after he signed an executive order spelling out how the US will enforce the “snapback” of sanctions. “My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran,” he said.
The US said it was reimposing sanctions on Iran for being in non-compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers, but Mr Trump in 2018 pulled out of the deal in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Mr Trump withdrew from the agreement. The US argues it retains the right to do so as an original participant in the deal and a member of the council.