Growing US-China rivalry seen fueling UN paralysis amid virus crisis

by Philippe Rater

For nearly a decade, the UN Security Council has been frequently paralyzed by Russia’s obstinacy over the Syrian crisis. Today, however, it is the US-China rivalry that has infected a growing array of issues, according to officials and diplomats.

As recently as 2017, an understanding between Washington and Beijing allowed the United Nations on three occasions — involving separate sets of economic sanctions — to project international unity in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat.

Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a ferocious competition erupt between the UN’s two main contributors, prompting the organization’s chief, Antonio Guterres, to bemoan a “lack of leadership” during the world’s worst crisis since 1945.

“Where we see power, we sometimes do not see the necessary leadership,” he said recently.

Even after more than two months of negotiations, the 15 Security Council members were unable to reach agreement on a resolution supporting a call from the UN secretary-general for a global cease-fire while the world battles the novel coronavirus.

The sole reason? US-Chinese differences over a passing mention in the draft resolution to the World Health Organization (WHO), with which President Donald Trump on Friday said he planned to sever ties.

Both UN officials and diplomats say the US-Chinese conflict seems to be spreading, leaving them increasingly pessimistic.

“The Security Council has been frozen for 45 years between 1945 and 1990, because of the Cold War,” one ambassador said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The last thing we need is another Cold War that would freeze again the Security Council.”

“Importing bilateral disputes in the Council would be a disaster,” he said.

Added another ambassador: “We really shouldn’t enter in a new Cold War. But it doesn’t look very good at the moment,” whether regarding leadership, the pandemic or US-Chinese relations, three subjects “very closely tied to each other.” (AFP)