UN chief warns of a world divided between US and China

Updated September 25, 2019

Email

New York: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes his closing statement at the end of the Climate Action Summit.—Reuters
New York: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes his closing statement at the end of the Climate Action Summit.—Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned global leaders on Tuesday of the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currency, trade, financial rules “and their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.”

In his annual “state of the world address” to the General Assembly’s gathering of heads of state and government, Guterres said the risk “may not yet be large, but it is real.” “We must do everything possible to avert the great fracture and maintain a universal system, a universal economy with universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions,” he told presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers from the UN’s 193 member states.

Guterres painted a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet facing a climate crisis, “the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf,” spreading terrorism, rising populism and “exploding” inequality.

His speech was followed by the traditional first speaker Brazil, represented by its new president, Jair Bolsonaro and the United States, represented by President Donald Trump.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is scheduled to speak later, said he was returning to London immediately afterward, where he will face the fallout of a court ruling against his decision to shut down Parliament over the is debating the UK in the crucial countdown to the country’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The United Nations, designed to promote a multilateral world, has struggled in the face of increasing unilateralism by the US and other nations that favour going it alone.

Trump stressed in his speech that “love of our nations makes the world better for all nations.” “The future does not belong to globalists,” he said. “The future belongs to patriots.” But Guterres said: “We are living in a world of disquiet.” “A great many people fear getting trampled, thwarted, left behind. Machines take their jobs. Traffickers take their dignity. Demagogues take their rights. Warlords take their lives. Fossil fuels take their future,” he said.

Yet, the secretary-general said people still believe in “the spirit and ideas” of the United Nations and its foundation of multilateralism, of all countries working together.

But he asked the VIP crowd in the horseshoe-shaped assembly chamber: “Do they believe leaders will put people first?” “We, the leaders must deliver for we, the peoples,” Guterres said.Guterres gave a dire warning about the situation in the Gulf.

“Above all, we are facing the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf, the consequences of which the world cannot afford,” he said. “In a context where a minor miscalculation can lead to a major confrontation, we must do everything possible to push for reason and restraint.” Trump said the US “does not seek conflict with any other nation” and desires peace, but “I will never fail to defend America’s interests.” He called Iran “the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism” and accused it of fueling wars in Syria and Yemen while squandering its wealth in a “fanatical quest” for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2019