The U.S. and China on Tuesday clashed over COVID-19 during the General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
U.S. President Donald Trump, who fired the first shot in his pre-recorded video message, referred to the coronavirus as “China virus”, a term that angers Beijing.
“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.
“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,” he said.
Trump reiterated his allegation that China and the World Health Organisation (WHO), “which is virtually controlled by China”, deliberately misled the world on the mode of transmission of the virus.
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He accused them of “falsely declaring that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission”.
“Later, they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease.
“The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” he said.
Chinese ambassador to the UN, Amb. Zhang Jun, responded to Trump’s accusations before introducing his country’s president, Xi Jingping, who was the fourth leader to speak.
Jun said China would not be cowed by U.S. “bully tactics”, accusing Trump of using the global stage to spread his “political virus”.
“We strongly and totally reject the baseless accusation against China.
“No matter what others say, we support multilateralism and the UN to play its central role in international affairs,” he said.
The exchanges came shortly after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had, in his address, expressed concern over the escalating tensions between north countries.
Warning against a “new Cold War” between the U.S. and China, Guterres said the bad blood was moving the world in “a very dangerous direction”.
“Our world cannot afford a 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.
“A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide.
“We must avoid this at all costs,” he said.
Although the Chinese president did not address the U.S. directly in his speech, he said the world “must” reject unilateral actions and work together to defrost the virus.