At UNGA, Trump and Xi trade blows on Covid-19 and climate change

In recorded speech to General Assembly in New York, US president blames China for failing to contain coronavirus

In this image made from UNTV video, United States President Donald Trump speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at U.N. headquarters in New York. The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders started Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from some of the planet's biggest powers, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic that will likely be a dominant theme at their video gathering this year. (UNTV via AP)
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US President Donald Trump assailed China over the coronavirus at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday before President Xi Jinping criticised the politicisation of the pandemic.

Mr Trump’s video speech appeared to be aimed at domestic voters before the November 3 election.

He detailed campaign highlights, including blaming China for not containing the spread of Covid-19, but also promoted international achievements.

“The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” Mr Trump said in the speech recorded on Monday at the White House.

“In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world.

“The Chinese government and the World Health Organisation, which is virtually controlled by China, falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.”

Mr Xi, who took to the virtual podium moments later, said the “world must not 'politicise' fight against coronavirus”.

Mr Trump has increased tension with China in recent months to try to portray himself as tougher towards Beijing than his re-election opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, and to deflect blame for the US coronavirus outbreak, the worst in the world.

The US death toll on Tuesday passed 204,000, the highest in the world.

The Trump administration has made several antagonistic moves towards China in recent months.

They include sanctioning Chinese officials over their treatment of Muslim minorities, removing special trade benefits from Hong Kong, closing a Chinese consulate in Houston, and announcing plans to restrict Chinese visas for journalists and students.

Mr Trump also is seeking to force the spin-off of the US operations of TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned short video app.

Before Mr Trump spoke, Mr Xi took a veiled swipe at the US.

In a strongly worded speech, he said no country should “be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world".

Pushing for developing countries to have a greater role in world affairs, Mr Xi said the UN could be “more balanced” and called for the “international order underpinned by international law", the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

He said countries must not be “lorded over by those who wave a strong fist at others".

Mr Trump’s criticism of China widened to include the country’s environmental record.

He has drawn international criticism for withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accords negotiated by his predecessor.

“Those who attack America’s exceptional environmental record while ignoring China’s rampant pollution are not interested in the environment,” Mr Trump said.

“They only want to punish America. And I will not stand for it.”

Mr Xi also addressed climate change, saying China would achieve peak carbon-dioxide emissions before 2030 and be carbon-neutral by 2060.

He called for multilateral action and vowed to go beyond the terms of the Paris accord.

"China will scale up, adopting more vigorous policies and measures," Mr Xi said as he called on all countries to pursue a "green recovery of the world economy in the post-Covid 19 era".