Trump criticises China over coronavirus response in defiant UN speech

US president says UN must hold China accountable for ‘unleashing virus on world’

US president Donald Trump delivered a defiant address to the United Nations on Tuesday, hitting out at China and defending his America-first policy.

Addressing the UN general assembly in a pre-recorded message, Mr Trump used much of his allotted time to criticise Beijing, arguing that the UN “must hold China accountable for their actions”.

“We must hold accountable the nation who unleashed this virus on the world,” he said, referencing the coronavirus that originated in China’s Wuhan region.

He also criticised Beijing’s environmental record.


"Those who attack America's exceptional environmental record while ignoring China's rampant pollution are not interested in the environment. They only want to punish America, and I will not stand for it," he said during the speech, recorded at the White House on Monday.

Mr Trump said that, as president, he was "proudly putting America first", just as other leaders should put their countries first. He also defended his decision to withdraw from the "terrible" Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, and hailed his decision to impose "crippling sanctions on the world's leading state sponsor of terror".


He said that America was fulfilling its “destiny as peacemaker”, but “peace through strength”.

“We are stronger now than ever before. Our weapons are at an advanced level like we’ve never had before, like, frankly, we’ve never even thought of having before. And I only pray to God that we never have to use them.”

Introducing China's Xi Jinping following Mr Trump's remarks, China's UN ambassador Zhang Jun said that his country "resolutely rejects the baseless accusations against China".

“The world is at a crossroads. At this moment, the world needs more solidarity and co-operation, but not confrontation,” he said.

Mr Xi, in his prerecorded speech, defended Beijing’s environmental record, declaring that the country’s carbon emissions would peak by 2030. Without mentioning the US, Mr Xi warned against “burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich” by fighting globalisation.

Mr Trump has endeavoured to project himself as tough on China as America enters the final week of its presidential campaign, arguing that his Democratic rival Joe Biden would be soft on one of the world's largest economic powers.

“Beijing Biden” is one of the monikers Mr Trump has used to describe the Democratic candidate, highlighting Mr Biden’s son Hunter’s past dealings with Chinese businesses.


Speaking at a separate event before the president's speech, Mr Biden's foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken said that China had filled a void in terms of global leadership since Mr Trump's election.

“Right now, by every key metric, China’s strategic position is stronger and America’s position is weaker as a result of President Trump’s leadership,” he told an American Chamber of Commerce event.

While he said that “trying to fully decouple” from China is unrealistic and counter-productive, he said that a Biden administration would be prepared to use tariffs if needed – a sign that Mr Biden would continue some of Mr Trump’s trade policies if he wins November’s election.

Mr Trump was on Tuesday night due to hold a campaign rally, dubbed as a “Great American Comeback” event, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – a key swing state in November’s election. It follows a visit by the president to Ohio on Monday night, another rustbelt state where the president is popular.

During the event, Mr Trump claimed that the virus had affected “virtually nobody” below the age of 18 in some states. His comments come as America’s death toll from the disease hit 200,000.

“It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems,” he told his supporters, thousands of whom gathered to hear him without wearing face coverings and standing in close proximity to each other.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent