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Pandemic sharpens ‘battle for the soul’ of United Nations between US and China

Long-simmering tensions between the United States and China have hit boiling point at the United Nations over the coronavirus pandemic, spotlighting Beijing’s bid for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to Washington’s traditional leadership.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has accelerated his UN power play as President Donald Trump’s disregard for international cooperation led to the United States quitting global deals on climate and Iran and leaving the UN Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization, diplomats say.

“There’s definitely, in my mind, a battle for the soul of the UN going on,” said a senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that Trump’s “America First” policy has been “damaging because the Chinese have a sort of smooth assertion that they are the true multilateralists.” While Trump has made China one of his punching bags as he bids for re-election on Nov. 3, the diplomatic hostilities have spilled over in public meetings of the 193-member General Assembly and the 15-member Security Council.

Xi had been expected to make a rare visit to New York next week for the annual UN gathering of world leaders, which could have provided an opportunity for a meeting in person with Trump.

But he will now send a video statement because of the pandemic.

Trump blames China for a lack of transparency about the novel coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year. China has rejected his accusations.