The United States, China and Russia fought fiercely on Thursday during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the coronavirus pandemic when United Nations chief Antonio Guterres told the agency they had failed in treating COVID-19 .
Guterres blamed “a lack of global readiness, cooperation, unity and solidarity” for the runaway coronavirus, killing nearly one million worldwide. More than 32 million people have been diagnosed with the virus.
“The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation – a test that we have essentially failed,” he told the 15-strong panel. If the climate crisis were addressed in the same way, he said, “I fear the worst.”
US President Donald Trump, facing a re-election campaign made more difficult by the spread of the disease across the country, on Tuesday called for action against China to spread the “plague” of COVID-19 around the world.
The US has reported more than 200,000 deaths, the highest in the world, and accuses Beijing of a lack of transparency that is believed to have made the outbreak worse. China denies the claims.
‘Enough is enough’
US Ambassador Kelly Craft reiterated these allegations at the virtual council meeting and drew an angry response from her Chinese counterpart Zhang Jun.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “You have already created enough problems for the world. … The US should understand that guilty of others cannot solve its own problems. “
Speaking English, Zhang noted the deaths and cases in the United States, “With the most advanced medical technologies and systems in the world, why did the United States have the most confirmed cases and deaths?
“If anyone should be held accountable, it should be some US politicians themselves.”
The US “is completely isolated,” he added in remarks that were enthusiastically supported by his Russian counterpart.
Long-simmering tensions between the U.S. and China have reached the boiling point of the pandemic, putting Beijing’s quest for greater multilateral influence in the spotlight in a challenge to traditional Washington leadership.
Craft’s attack took many diplomats by surprise.
“Shame on each of you,” she said.
“I am amazed and disgusted with the content of today’s discussion. I am really ashamed of this council – members of the council who took this opportunity to focus on political grudges rather than the critical issue. My goodness.”
Diplomats said they were puzzled by the tone of Craft that had gone when the Chinese ambassador spoke.
Craft was “very aggressive” after a meeting that was “more or less consensus-based,” a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Nancy Soderberg, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, told Al Jazeera that the organization is “a microcosm of the state of the world” and that the irritable mood of the event underscores how “broken” the global response to the pandemic has become.
“It hasn’t reached the point of no return,” she said. “It is in every country’s interest to work together and take the necessary measures to keep its people safe.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – without giving a name – stated that the pandemic had exacerbated the differences between the states.
“We are seeing attempts by individual countries to use the current situation to advance their narrow interests of the moment and settle the bill with an undesirable government or geopolitical competitor,” he said.
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi meanwhile called for better coordination and cooperation.
“Big countries have even more obligations to put the future of humanity first, to discard the Cold War mentality and ideological bias, and to join together in a spirit of partnership to overcome the difficulties,” he said.
The US is pulling out of the Geneva-based World Health Organization after Trump accused it of becoming a puppet for China during the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO has rejected Trump’s claim.
“Sometimes geopolitics has manipulated cooperation and hindered our mobility. The pandemic has put the international system to the test like never before, “said British Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon. “But now is not the time to reject international institutions.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also seemed to stab the US when he said the pandemic should not be used to “undermine all of the work of feminist movements for gender equality over the past few decades”.
“We have to be on our guard, we have to be vigilant, especially when it comes to protecting sexual reproductive rights,” he told the Security Council.
Trump’s administration has taken a push at the United Nations against promoting sexual and reproductive health rights and services for women because it sees it as a code of abortion. Earlier this month, the US voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution on the coronavirus pandemic, partly because it contained such language.
World leaders have been asked to broadcast speeches in advance for the virtual general assembly so that Chinese President Xi Jinping could not respond to Trump’s video allegations when he made his speech.
General Assembly spokesman Brenden Varma said China has asked to speak next Tuesday, the day when any nation can respond to statements.