Sep 20, 2021 - World

UN chief urges U.S. and China to fix "dysfunctional relationship"

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gestures during a press conference on a hosts aid conference on Afghanistan, in Geneva on September 13

UN Secretary-General António Guterres during a Sept. 13 press conference in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / Coffini/AFP via Getty Images

UN Secretary-General António Guterres raised concerns in an interview with AP, published Monday, of another Cold War between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Guterres made the comments ahead of this week's UN General Assembly in New York. Guterres told AP the U.S.-U.K. deal to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia "is just one small piece of a more complex puzzle ... this completely dysfunctional relationship between China and the United States."

  • "We need to re-establish a functional relationship between the two powers," Guterres told AP in the interview, conducted Saturday.
  • He added it's "essential to address the problems of vaccination [disparities], the problems of climate change and many other global challenges that cannot be solved without constructive relations within the international community and mainly among the superpowers.
"We need to avoid at all cost a Cold War that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage."
— Guterres

Context: The submarine deal is part of a new security partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, known as AUKUS, which has raised the ire of Chinese and North Korean officials, who say it threatens the stability of the Asia-Pacific region. The AUKUS nations say it's to make the region safer.

Of note: Guterres told AP that President Biden's steps to get the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement that former President Trump withdrew the country from and other environmental commitments were "probably the most important" action he could take.

  • He noted that the arrival of Biden, who will appear for the first time as chief executive at the UN's high-level meeting Tuesday, marks "a completely different environment in the relationship" between the U.S. and UN.
  • Guterres added that he was "proud" to have done "everything" to "make sure that we would keep a functional relationship with the United States in the past administration."

What to watch: Guterres said while the powerful Group of 20 nations didn't take a united approach early in the pandemic, this could still be possible if there were the "political will."

  • He called it "totally unacceptable" that richer countries like his native Portugal had vaccinated 80% of their population, while less than 2% had been inoculated in "many" African countries.
"It's completely stupid from the point of view of defeating the virus, but if the virus goes on spreading like wildfire in the global south, there will be more mutations. And we know that mutations are making it more transmissible, more dangerous."
  • The Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

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

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