U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres opened the United Nations General Assembly’s high-level gathering on Tuesday with a plea for U.S.-China unity while pushing his top priorities of fighting climate change and preventing more war.
Guterres, who rose from Socialist Party leadership to become Portugal’s prime minister before ascending the U.N.’s ranks, warned in his annual “state of the world” address that the world is splintering into factions allied with either the United States or China.
He cautioned that the two-sided approach is causing unnecessary tensions and leading to conflicting economic rules of global governance.
“And at this time of transition and dysfunction in global power relations, there is a new risk looming on the horizon that may not yet be large, but it is real,” Guterres said, urging the world to do everything possible to maintain universal economic and legal systems with strong multilateral institutions.
“I fear the possibility of a Great Fracture: the world splitting in two,” he told world leaders from the U.N.’s 193 member nations, “with the two largest economies on Earth creating two separate and competing worlds, each with their own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, their own internet and artificial intelligence capacities, and their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.”
His appeal for globalism, or universalism, contrasted sharply with the populist nationalism of the leaders of Brazil — the General Assembly’s traditional first speaker — and the United States, the second speaker. Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, said other countries have disrespected Brazil for too long. “We are not here to erase nationalities and overrule sovereignty in the name of an abstract global interest,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of China’s trade practices seemed to affirm some of Guterres’ observations and fears. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was not due to speak until Friday morning. World leaders had only a muted response to Trump’s “America First”-themed speech, in which he urged the free world to “embrace its national foundations” by taking pride in country and sovereignty.
“Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first,” Trump said in his speech. “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors, and honor the differences that make each country special and unique.”
The United Nations Charter sends a clear message to us all: put people first.
The first words of the Charter — “we the peoples” – are a summons to place people at the centre of our work.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) September 24, 2019
‘Retreating into nationalism’
Like Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron made a strong case for multilateralism and international organizations while criticizing the populist nationalism agenda of disregarding others’ interests. He said true patriotism is the opposite of nationalism.
“I do not think that the problems we now have can be resolved by diluting responsibilities or by creating a form of globalization that overlooks the people, and in this respect, I agree with what President Trump said this morning,” Macron said in his speech.
“And I also do not think that the crises we are experiencing can be resolved more effectively by retreating into nationalism,” he said. “I truly believe in patriotism as long as it is based on love for one’s country as well as universal aspirations. I believe deeply in sovereignty as long as it is based on self-determination as well as on the need for cooperation.”
Macron called on the world to “acknowledge” that global solutions depend on international cooperation.
“The major problem we now have is that we no longer know how to ensure the stability of a world that is increasingly marked by conflict, while we have moved away from the duopoly in which we had lived for decades,” he said. “There’s no longer anyone we can turn to as a last resort to guarantee essential balances.”