Sep 22, 2020 - World

In UN address, Trump says China "unleashed this plague onto the world"

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump used a virtual address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday to defend his response to the coronavirus and call on other countries to “hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.”

Setting the scene: Trump ticked through four years of major decisions and accomplishments in what could be his last address to the UN. But first, he launched into a fierce attack on China as Beijing’s representative looked on in the assembly hall.

Breaking it down: There were two main themes to Trump’s speech.

  1. On his watch, America and its military have become more powerful than ever — but he is using that strength to promote peace.
  2. China is taking advantage of other countries and bodies like the World Health Organization — and has been getting away with it.


  • "We are once again engaged in a great global struggle. We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy, the China virus.”
  • Citing a pending troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the recent White House gathering between Serbia and Kosovo, and the newly sealed Israel recognition deals, Trump declared: "America is fulfilling our destiny as peacemaker."
  • Trump said the U.S. was developing weapons no previous administration had even considered, and said America had "the most powerful military anywhere in the world, and it’s not even close.”
  • Trump's bottom line: “I am putting America first just as you should be putting your countries first. That’s ok, that’s what you should be doing.”

Between the lines: Many leaders who will be speaking this week have been frustrated by Trump's unwillingness to join a global initiative on vaccine distribution, his announced withdrawal from the World Health Organization, and his unilateral attempt to reimpose sanctions on Iran even after leaving the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • The direction of travel for the UN over the next few years will be decided, in large part, by the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

The latest: Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke shortly after Trump. He referred to the virus as a shared global struggle, and said, "any attempt of politicizing the issue, or stigmatization, should be rejected."

  • In a clear reference to the U.S. he said, "Major countries should act like major countries. They should provide more global public goods, take up their due responsibilities and live up to people’s expectations.”

Worth noting: Trump used less than half of his allotted time slot, and his seven-minute speech was far shorter than those of other major world leaders.

Go deeper: What to watch this week at UNGA.

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