Tensions between China and the US spilled out on the world stage on Tuesday as Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly that Beijing must be held accountable for its actions over the Covid-19 pandemic.
The US president accused China of allowing the coronavirus to "leave China and infect the world" and urged the international community to take action, in a recorded message played to the annual meeting of the UN.
"The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions," Mr Trump said, referring to Covid-19 as the “China virus”.
He accused China of not sharing timely information with the world on the new disease and criticised its decision not to stop international flights.
“In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world,” he said in a short message delivered at the UN's headquarters in New York, at a gathering that meets each year to address global problems.
“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,” said Mr Trump, who is facing growing disapproval at home over his handling of the virus.
Mr Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the spread of the novel virus to the US, where some 200,000 people have now died.
He has directed his administration to withdraw from the WHO, an independent international body that works with the UN, accusing it of being a puppet of China.
Addressing the assembly minutes later, Xi Jinping, China’s president, said Beijing has “confronted disaster head on."
“We should enhance solidarity and get through this together,” Mr Xi said, urging international cooperation over finger-pointing.
“Any attempt at politicisation or stigmatisation should be rejected,” he added, alluding to Mr Trump. "Major countries should act like major countries. They should provide more global public goods, take up their due responsibilities and live up to people’s expectations.”
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, opening the 75th session of the General Assembly, the first ever to go virtual, urged the world to prevent a Cold War between the two super powers and halt conflicts so it can focus on the pandemic.
"We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture - each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities," he said, without saying the US and China by name.
World powers have been kept at home this year by the coronavirus pandemic that will likely be a dominant theme at their video gathering. The pandemic has now killed over 960,000 people worldwide.