Sep 21, 2020 - World

Trump and Xi to give dueling speeches Tuesday at UN General Assembly

Trump waving through United Nations General Assembly logo

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump and China’s Xi Jinping will address the UN General Assembly just minutes apart on Tuesday morning — with Russia’s Vladimir Putin following soon thereafter.

The big picture: Trump has promised a “strong message on China.” Xi, meanwhile, is expected to laud global cooperation — with the clear implication that it can be led from Beijing.

Setting the scene: The 75th annual General Assembly will be unrecognizable, with more world leaders (173) than ever addressing the forum, but all of them doing so via pre-recorded videos.

  • The “great power” rivals are joined on Tuesday morning’s agenda by several other powerful men, including Emmanuel Macron of France and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
  • And yes, they will all be men. A provisional schedule showed the first female speaker — President Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia — 53rd on the agenda.
  • The speeches will continue through next Tuesday, but there will be no motorcades clogging Manhattan streets, world leaders conferring in hallways, or frenzied shuffling between side-summits.
  • But there will nonetheless be a diplomatic crisis rumbling on in the background.

The backstory: The U.S. initiated a “snapback” mechanism at the UN Security Council last month to reimpose sanctions on Iran lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • Trump says those sanctions came back into force yesterday and are needed to prevent Iran from buying weapons. He also added new unilateral sanctions on Iran today via executive order.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted today that “every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce these sanctions.”
  • But all of the deal's other signatories have rejected the move, and the U.K., France and Germany have vowed to ignore it.
  • Between the lines: They're desperate to keep the nuclear deal afloat in spite of Trump's efforts.

Zoom out: Many diplomats at the UN view their jobs in much the same way.

  • One one hand: The Trump administration dismisses multilateralism and has announced America's withdrawal from several UN agencies, including the World Health Organization.
  • On the other: A rising China is hardly likely to promote many of the values the UN has attempted to stand for. Of its primary missions, the UN wins the most respect for its work on human rights, according to new Pew data from 14 countries.

What they’re saying: UN Secretary General António Guterres believes the global order going through a "rather chaotic" transition period.

  • The future global roles of the U.S. and China are still to be defined, he says, even as they engage in a confrontation that could end in "a big rupture."
  • “ I think we are not yet there," he told GZERO Media of a return to Cold War-style bifurcation. "We are in a process that is still unpredictable and we will have to see what happens in the next two or three years to have a clear perspective.”

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