UN chief warns China, US to avoid new cold war


UNITED NATIONS (PA) – Warning of a potential new cold war, the UN chief implored China and the United States to mend their “completely dysfunctional” relationship before the problems between the two big, deeply influential countries broke down spread even further to the rest of the planet.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed The Associated Press this weekend ahead of this week’s annual gathering of UN world leaders – a meeting marred by COVID, climate concerns and controversy across the planet.

Guterres said the world’s two major economic powers should cooperate on climate and negotiate more vigorously on trade and technology, even given the lingering political fissures over human rights, the economy, online security and more. sovereignty in the South China Sea.

“Unfortunately today we only have one showdown,” Guterres said in the AP interview on Saturday.

“We need to reestablish a functional relationship between the two powers,” he said, calling this “essential to solving the problems of vaccination, the problems of climate change and many other global challenges that cannot be solved without. constructive relations within the international community. community and mainly among the superpowers.

Two years ago, Guterres warned world leaders about the risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating Internets, rival currencies, trade rules, financial “and their own geopolitical strategies. and zero-sum military ”.

He reiterated the warning in the PA interview, adding that two competing geopolitical and military strategies would pose “dangers” and divide the world. So, he said, the falling relationship must be mended – and soon.

“We must avoid at all costs a cold war that would be different from the last one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage,” said Guterres.

The so-called Cold War between the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies and the United States and its Western allies began immediately after World War II and ended with the break-up of the Union Soviet in 1991. It was a clash between two nuclear weapons of superpowers with rival ideologies – communism and authoritarianism on the one hand, capitalism and democracy on the other.

The UN chief said a new Cold War could be more perilous because Soviet-American antipathy created clear rules and both sides were aware of the risk of nuclear destruction. This produced feedback channels and forums “to ensure that things didn’t get out of hand,” he said.

“Now everything is more fluid today, and even the experience that existed in the past to deal with the crisis is no longer there,” said Guterres.

He said the deal between the United States and Britain to give Australia nuclear-powered submarines so they can operate undetected in Asia “is only a small piece. of a more complex puzzle… this completely dysfunctional relationship between China and the United States. “

The covertly negotiated deal angered China and France, which had signed a contract with Australia worth at least $ 66 billion for a dozen French conventional diesel-electric submarines .

In the high-profile PA interview, the secretary-general also touched on three major issues that world leaders will face this week: the worsening climate crisis, the still raging pandemic and the uncertain future of Afghanistan under its new Taliban rulers. They seized power on August 15 without a fight from the US-trained government army, with US forces in the final stages of withdrawing from the country after 20 years.

What will be the role of the United Nations in the new Afghanistan? Guterres called it a “fantasy” to believe that UN involvement “can suddenly produce an inclusive government, guarantee respect for all human rights, guarantee that no terrorists will ever exist in Afghanistan, let drug trafficking stop. “

After all, he said, the United States and many other countries had thousands of troops in Afghanistan and spent billions of dollars and were unable to fix the country’s problems – and, some say made them worse.

Although the UN has “limited capacity and weight,” he said, it plays a key role in leading efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghans. The UN is also drawing the attention of the Taliban to the importance of an inclusive government that respects human rights. rights, especially for women and girls, he said.

“There is clearly a power struggle among different groups at the head of the Taliban. The situation is not yet clarified, “he said, calling it one more reason why the international community should engage with the Taliban.

While former US President Donald Trump was committed to an “America First” policy, President Joe Biden – who will make his first appearance as chief executive at the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on Tuesday – reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to multilateral institutions.

Guterres said Biden’s commitment to global climate action, including joining the 2015 Paris climate agreement from which Trump withdrew, is “possibly the most important of all”.

He said there is “a completely different environment in relations” between the United Nations and the United States under Biden. But, said Guterres, “I did everything – and I’m proud of it – to make sure we would keep a working relationship with the United States in the previous administration.”

Guterres also lamented the failure of countries to work together to tackle global warming and ensure that the people of each country are vaccinated.

Of the past year in the fight against COVID-19, he said: “We have not been able to make real progress in effectively coordinating global efforts. “

And the climate: “A year ago, we saw a clearer movement in the right direction, and this movement has slowed down in the recent past. We must therefore re-accelerate again if we do not go towards disaster.

Guterres called “totally unacceptable” that 80% of the population of his native Portugal has been vaccinated while in many African countries less than 2% of the population is vaccinated.

“It’s completely stupid from a virus-fighting standpoint, but if the virus continues to spread like wildfire in the global south, there will be more mutations,” he said. “And we know mutations make it more transmissible, more dangerous.”

He again urged the 20 major global economic powers of the G20, which failed to unite against COVID-19 in early 2020, to create the conditions for a global vaccination plan. Such a plan, he said, must bring together vaccine-producing countries with international financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies to double production and ensure equitable distribution.

“I think it’s possible,” Guterres said. “It depends on political will.

The secretary-general said rich and developed countries spend around 20% of their GDP on recovery issues, middle-income countries around 6% and least developed countries 2% of a small GDP. This, he says, has produced frustration and mistrust in parts of the developing world that have not received vaccines or recovery assistance.

The divide between developed countries in the north and developing countries in the south “is very dangerous for global security,” said Guterres, “and it is very dangerous for the ability to bring the world together to fight climate change.”


Edith M. Lederer, senior UN correspondent for the Associated Press, has been reporting internationally for nearly 50 years. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EdithLedererAP

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