NEW YORK (Reuters) – As China and the United States argue at the United Nations this week over COVID-19 and the climate, one of the world’s smallest countries pleaded for détente.
“Micronesia asks our American and Chinese friends to strengthen their cooperation and friendship with one another … to achieve the best for our global community,”
Micronesia – with a population of around 113,000 – and its neighbors on the Pacific Island have long been in a diplomatic tug-of-war between the world’s largest economic powers as China takes over US influence in a region Washington has viewed as a backyard since World War II.
During his Friday address to the meeting of world leaders taped due to the pandemic, Panuelo admitted that the competition has been beneficial for some people in the Pacific.
He warned, however, that the effort “may also threaten the destruction of longstanding alliances within our Pacific community and become counterproductive to our collective desire for regional solidarity, security and stability”.
The US-China showdown is now playing out at the 193 members of the United Nations, where Beijing has pushed for greater multilateral influence to challenge traditional US leadership. The tensions between the two superpowers have reached the boiling point on the world body because of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Micronesia’s plea was conspicuous during the annual but virtual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations this week, because while most countries called for unity to fight COVID-19, other indications were US and Chinese friction generally askew.
Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, said most leaders want to avoid getting caught up in the tension.
“Many UN members consider the USA to be destructive and China to be greedy for power. They don’t find that very appealing either, ”he said. “Ambitious Europeans like (French President Emmanuel) Macron see an opportunity to fill the leadership gap and are ready to challenge Beijing and Washington.”
Macron spoke to the General Assembly Tuesday after US President Donald Trump called for China to be held accountable for “unleashing” COVID-19 on the world and leading Beijing to accuse him of “lying” and the Abusing UN platform to provoke a confrontation.
“The world as it is today cannot be the result of a simple rivalry between China and the United States, regardless of the global weight of these two great powers, regardless of the history that holds us together,” said Macron.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned that the world is headed in a dangerous direction and “cannot afford a future in which the two largest economies divide the globe in a large fraction – each with their own trade and financial rules, as well as internet and artificial intelligence capacities. ”
In the Pacific, China forged closer economic ties with small island nations and pulled countries out of their long-term alliances with Taiwan in an attempt to win Kiribati and the Solomon Islands last year.
China regards Taiwan as its own territory with no right to state relations. Four of Taiwan’s remaining 15 diplomatic allies are in the Pacific – Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. All four countries spoke out in favor of Taiwan in their leaders’ addresses to the United Nations.
Although the landmass is tiny, the Pacific states control large swaths of highly strategic waters and form a border between America and Asia. When the oceans warm up and sea levels rise, they are also at the forefront of the global climate crisis.
“I hope that the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China will work together on global issues of global solidarity and cooperation, from climate change to COVID-19,” said Panuelo.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Adaptation by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler