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The United Nations Marks Its 75th Anniversary During The Pandemic

NOEL KING, HOST:

A meeting of the U.N. General Assembly unlike any other in history is underway. The U.N. is marking its 75th anniversary with world leaders addressing the General Assembly virtually because of the pandemic. In his speech, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for unity, saying he's particularly worried about the U.S.-China divide.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTERRES: We must do everything to avoid a new cold war. We are moving 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.

KING: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is following all of this. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So some dark words there from the Secretary-General. Let me ask you broadly, though, before we focus in on those, how is a virtual U.N. General Assembly going?

KELEMEN: Well, it means a lot of talking past each other. I'm afraid. I mean, you know, there's not the usual diplomacy that goes on in the corridors of the U.N. While Guterres was there in person, the rest of the speakers are all in recorded video messages. And this is the 75th anniversary of the world body, and the secretary-general sees it as a foundational moment, a time for international cooperation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an economic crisis and a climate crisis. But he really sounds increasingly worried about the divisions between the U.S. and China, which has really paralyzed the U.N. Security Council.

KING: The Assembly just heard from President Trump. What did he say? Did he talk about China?

KELEMEN: Absolutely. You know, he started talking about the pandemic, boasting about America's handling of it despite the really devastating death toll here in the United States. And he placed blame squarely on Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will end the pandemic, and we will enter a new era of unprecedented prosperity, cooperation and peace. As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world - China.

KELEMEN: The president called it the China virus. He complained that the World Health Organization is virtually controlled by China. Remember, the U.S. is pulling out of the WHO. Trump also used this speech to defend his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, complaining that the world has ignored China's, quote, "rampant pollution." They only want to punish America, and I will not stand for it, he said.

KING: OK. So later today, we're going to hear from China's president, Xi Jinping, among others. Do you think he will respond to President Trump? Or does he have his own set of issues he wants to get out there?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, he actually spoke yesterday, too, at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the U.N. to tout multilateralism and to support the rights of smaller countries. You know, China has been very successful in recent years in increasing its influence at the U.N. And I've heard a lot of diplomats say that as the U.S. withdraws, China is just going to step in and even more.

KING: Interesting. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.