The mood could not but have been sombre as the United Nations General Assembly became the venue for world leaders to gather if only to reassure a world hit by long term climate change and racked by two years of the pandemic that all is not indeed lost. The warning from the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres that the world faces the “greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime,” was accurate enough to trigger concern.
Both US President Joe Biden and China’s supremo Xi Jinping sought to allay fears with Mr Biden promising “relentless diplomacy” instead of “relentless war” in answer to fears of a new Cold War developing in the world, this one between the US and China. Mr Xi, in a recorded message, postulated that disputes among countries “need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation” and that “the world is big enough to accommodate common development and progress in all countries”.
History has been witness to the fact that the United Nations in Manhattan’s UN Plaza is where world leaders usually ring the alarm bells as well as call for the peace pipe. But actions always speak louder than words like in the “edge of the abyss” scenario woven by the UN chief that seems chillingly accurate. But Mr Biden took it as his main task to stave off a stinging backlash from allies to various US moves of recent vintage, most of all against the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Mr Biden spoke of the sanctity of old alliances like Nato even as his actions in arming Australia in furtherance of strategic interests in containing China’s sea power in the Indo-Pacific meant something else. Reports of a move by a peeved France offering to trade a permanent seat at the Security Council to the EU in return for empowering Nato with a strike force have been denied but the very thought is an indication of how much has gone awry even among the oldest allies.
If global warming mitigation funding was proving an albatross around the necks of the developed world which had cause all the pollution in the first place, there was good news that Mr Biden’s USA has agreed to raise its contribution to $11.2 billion a year to developing nations, which will come in handy towards the main COP-26 pledge of $100 billion a year to help fund the fight. China has significantly pledged to stop funding overseas coal projects. There is no word on whether China will also seek green and low carbon energy sources. A start has, however, been made towards tackling the second big problem after the threat of a Cold War facing the world.
If the mismatch between words and deeds may be reflected most in a new arms race in the emerging bipolar world with China ranged against the rest on suspicions over where and how the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 emerged, it’s refreshing that Mr Biden reiterated that “bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants”. The inequalities of the world have never been made more apparent than in the distribution of vaccines.
Cynicism regarding the efficacy of its vaccines notwithstanding, China may hand out two billion doses to disadvantage countries whereas the US is making a virtue of having passed on a few million doses close to their expiry dates. In reality, a world tormented by the pandemic and tortured by thoughts of nuclear proliferation expects much more by way of concerted action from leading powers to rein in the weaponry and invest more in peace.