Five Countries that Used the U.N. General Assembly to Challenge China

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A recurring theme at this year’s 75th United Nations General Assembly was the multinational call to challenge Beijing’s increasingly harmful behavior, whether in relation to its handling of China’s initial coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan late last year or its recent belligerent actions in the South China Sea and other maritime regions.

Below are five examples of nations calling out China’s unacceptable behavior on the world stage.

United States: We Must Hold China Accountable for Unleashing ‘Plague unto the World’:

“We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy – the China Virus – which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries,” U.S. President Donald Trump said.

“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague unto the world: China,” Trump said.

Elaborating, the president explained:

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 canceled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes.

The Chinese government, and the World Health Organization – which is virtually controlled by China – falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

Later, they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease. The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions.

Trump noted that the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) seemed to collude with China in denying knowledge of the virus’s contagiousness and severity. This theory has been supported by the government of Taiwan, which in April published a letter it sent to the W.H.O. officials in December warning that an “atypical pneumonia” had recently emerged in nearby China. This letter proves that the W.H.O. had reason to believe the Chinese coronavirus was highly contagious as early as December, Taipei asserted.

The W.H.O. refused to acknowledge Taiwan’s early warning for weeks, and, instead, tweeted Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda on January 14 claiming there was still “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the new coronavirus. Internal CCP documents leaked to the Associated Press in April indicate the Party had reason not to believe this claim. The W.H.O.’s denial of Taiwan’s early coronavirus warning suggests that the U.N. health body colluded with the CCP to cover up the severity of China’s initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan late last year, observers said.

Australia: Chinese Coronavirus ‘Inflicted Calamity’ on the World and Its Foggy Origins Must be Reviewed:

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the W.H.O. for establishing an independent panel to investigate the origins of the Chinese coronavirus.

“I’m pleased that the W.H.O. has established an independent panel to evaluate the global response [to the Chinese coronavirus]. There is also a clear mandate to identify the zoonotic source of the COVID-19 virus [Chinese coronavirus] and how it was transmitted to humans. Australia strongly advocated for this review,” Morrison said.

“This virus has inflicted a calamity on our world and its peoples. We must do all we can to understand what happened for no other purpose than to prevent it from happening again. When the resolution was put to the World Health Assembly in May, a record 145 countries were co-sponsors,” the prime minister noted.

In the face of mounting evidence at the time that Beijing’s initial handling of the country’s first outbreak in Wuhan had been purposefully obfuscated, Australia joined the U.S. in April to lead an international call for an independent investigation into the virus’s true origins. As Morrison said in his U.N. General Assembly speech, nearly 150 nations sponsored a resolution to establish an independent investigative panel.

Philippines: ‘We Firmly Reject’ Beijing’s Attempts to Undermine International Law in the South China Sea:

Like U.S. President Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte began his U.N. General Assembly speech by referring to the Chinese coronavirus as an “invisible enemy” that has “unleashed a crisis that is without precedent.”

Later in his address, Duterte said the Philippines “firmly rejects” Beijing’s recent attempts to undermine international law by violating other countries’ sovereign territory in the South China Sea.

“We must remain mindful of our obligation and commitment to the charter of the United Nations. And as is amplified by the 1982 Manila declaration on the peaceful settlement of international disputes, the Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS [U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the 2016 arbitral award,” he said.

“The award is now part of international law. Beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it. We welcome an increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for,” the president added.

Duterte referred to a 2016 court ruling by an independent arbitral tribunal established under UNCLOS; in the landmark case, brought by the Philippines, the international tribunal at the Hague found no legal basis for Beijing’s claims to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea. China rejected the ruling and continues to push forward with its illegal claims of sovereignty in the maritime region.

Vietnam: We Call for Beijing to ‘Exercise Restraint’ in the South China Sea:

Echoing its Southeast Asian neighbor, the Philippines, Vietnam condemned Beijing’s increasingly belligerent actions in the South China Sea as it tries to assert illegal territorial claims.

Vietnamese President Nguyễn Phú Trọng said:

Together with countries within and outside the region, we are committed to the maintenance and promotion of peace, stability, maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea (South China Sea), in accordance with international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS].

“We call on all concerned parties to exercise restraint, avoid unilateral acts that would complicate the situation, and settle disputes and differences through peaceful means with due respect for diplomatic and legal processes,” he added.

China has encroached upon other nations’ sovereign territory in the sea with increasing frequency over the past six months. The Chinese coast guard shadows and harasses other nations’ fishing and exploratory fleets, preventing them from gathering natural resources within their own exclusive economic zones. Beijing has occupied other nations’ reefs and islets in the South China Sea for years, treating them as military outposts. In recent months, it has bolstered its military presence on several of these installations as well.

China has increasingly targeted Vietnam, in particular, with this aggressive behavior. China’s Coast Guard hit and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in waters off of Vietnam’s Paracel Islands on April 3. The brazen attack prompted Hanoi to issue an official diplomatic protest against Beijing the next day. In July, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed eight fighter jets to Vietnam’s Woody Island, where it has built its largest illegal military installation in the South China Sea.

Ecuador: “We Will Assert Our Maritime Rights” to Protect Galápagos from China’s Illegal Fishing Fleet:

As in the South China Sea, Beijing operates illegal fishing fleets within Ecuador’s territorial waters. This summer, the South American nation sounded the alarm on China’s threat to the protected Galápagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador within the country’s exclusive economic zone. Ecuador’s navy said it was “on alert” in late July over a large, mainly Chinese, fishing fleet as it inched “very close” to the edge of Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone.

Ecuador President Lenin Moreno addressed the illegal fishing fleet in his U.N. General Assembly speech.

“The failure to enforce environmental agreements has grave, very grave social and economic repercussions. Recently, Ecuador manifested its concern over the presence of a large foreign fishing fleet, which since May 2020 has been active very close to the Galápagos Islands,” Moreno said. “We have reiterated that, regardless of the flag they fly, we will assert our maritime rights over the exclusive economic zone.”

The Galápagos marine preserve is protected as a UNESCO world heritage site for its sensitive biodiversity; fishing in an around the site is explicitly banned.

“[L]ong fishing lines from the Chinese vessels could be drifting into [Ecuador’s] exclusive economic zone,” a Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project member said in July. Though yet unproven this year, China’s illegal fishing both within Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone and inside the Galápagos marine preserve has been well documented in the past.

Ecuador authorities seized a Chinese vessel in August 2017 after it was caught illegally fishing within the boundaries of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Authorities arrested 20 of the boat’s crew members and found 6,600 sharks on board the boat. The illegal haul included near-extinct or endangered species, such as hammerhead sharks.


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