China's Xi: COVID reveals isolationism as a futile pursuit

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In this image made from UNTV video, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at U.N. headquarters in New York. The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders started Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from some of the planet's biggest powers, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic that will likely be a dominant theme at their video gathering this year. (UNTV via AP)

TOKYO – China's leader took oblique potshots at the United States and its foreign policies Tuesday, cautioning in a U.N. address that the world must “not fall into the trap of a clash of civilizations" — remarks played minutes after delegates heard the American president insist that the United Nations “hold China accountable" for how it handled the emergence of the coronavirus.

“Major countries should act like major countries,” Xi Jinping said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, a speech made remotely and recorded in advance because the pandemic prevented leaders from convening as they have for decades. The virus first emerged in China early this year and has spread around the world, killing nearly 1 million people.

Xi, China's president and the leader of its Communist Party, cast the fight against the virus as an important exercise in international cooperation, an opportunity to “join hands and be prepared to meet even more global challenges.”

“COVID-19 reminds us that the economic globalization is an indisputable reality and a historical trend,” Xi said. “Burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich in the face of economic globalization or trying to fight it with Don Quixote’s lance goes against the trend of history. Let this be clear: The world will never return to isolation."

Such remarks, while not naming U.S. President Donald Trump, are highly critical of him and his “America First” philosophy, which goes against China's public stance on how diplomacy should be managed. In reality, China often acts unilaterally in affairs both domestic and international.

Earlier in the day, Trump used his own U.N. speech to roundly condemn Xi's government for what the American president frequently calls “the China virus,” a term he used again Tuesday. He referred to the virus as the “invisible enemy.” Many consider the very term “China virus” to be racist.

Though Trump had lavish praise for Xi early in his term, two key issues — a tariff dispute and the emergence of coronavirus — have helped cause his administration to take a more hardline attitude toward the Chinese government.

"The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions," Trump said in his own speech.