US President Donald Trump has used his UN General Assembly speech to attack China, saying it must be held accountable over the Covid-19 pandemic.
He accused China of allowing the coronavirus to “leave China and infect the world”.
In his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the world must not “politicise” the fight against the coronavirus.
This year’s summit at New York is largely being held virtually.
The UN headquarters would normally be full of world leaders and their representatives, but this year – due to to the coronavirus outbreak – leaders have provided pre-recorded messages.
But as often is the case for speeches to the assembly, President Trump used his address to tout his achievements and tear into a rival.
“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague on to the world – China,” he said.
“In the earliest days of the virus China locked down travel domestically, while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world. China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes,” he added.
President Trump, whose own record on coronavirus is under close scrutiny as the US heads towards elections, has frequently accused Beijing of covering up the virus, saying they could have stopped the disease spreading. China has called the attacks an unfounded distraction.
The US death toll for coronavirus, at nearly 200,000, is the highest in the world and President Trump has often downplayed the disease.
Tensions are high between the US and China on a number of other issues, including trade, technology, Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province.
Speaking soon after the US leader, President Xi warned of the risks of a “clash of civilisations”.
“We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. We will not seek to develop only ourselves or engage in zero sum game,” he said.
Trump speaks, with US voters the target
By Laura Trevelyan, BBC News
This was a stump speech by President Trump, who faces re-election in 40 days time. He had Bejing firmly in his sights – blaming what he and his followers call the China virus for taking countless lives.
Mr Trump is trying to deflect attention from his own handling of the pandemic by heaping opprobrium on China, while emphasising US efforts to find a cure.
We will end the pandemic, the US president pledged, saying thanks to our efforts three vaccines are in the final stage of development. For good measure, Mr Trump lumped the UN’s World Health Organization into his critique of China – saying the international body, which he’s withdrawing US funding from, is virtually controlled by China, blaming it for spreading what he called misinformation about the virus.
This was not a subtle speech. It was a clear attempt to shift blame as Americans are already voting in the presidential election.
The assembly was opened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who, without naming China or the US warned “we must do everything to avoid a new Cold War”.
“We are moving in a very dangerous direction,” he said. “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 there was no room for self-interest in the face of the coronavirus. “Populism and nationalism have failed,” he said. “Those approaches to contain the virus have often made things manifestly worse.”
President Trump gave a very different vision in his speech, saying “only when you take care of your own citizens will you find a true basis for cooperation”.