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UN chief warns of a world divided between US and China

Antonio Guterres gave his annual ‘state of the world address’ to the General Assembly in New York.

Antonio Guterres (Richard Drew/AP))
Antonio Guterres (Richard Drew/AP))

By Edith M Lederer, Associated Press

UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned global leaders of the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the US and China creating rival internets, currency, trade, financial rules “and their own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies”.

In his annual “state of the world address” to the General Assembly’s gathering of heads of state and government, Mr Guterres said the risk “may not yet be large, but it is real”.

“We must do everything possible to avert the great fracture and maintain a universal system, a universal economy with universal respect for international law, a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions,” he told presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers from the UN’s 193 member states.

The secretary general painted a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet facing a climate crisis, “the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf”, spreading terrorism, rising populism and “exploding” inequality.

The United Nations, designed to promote a multilateral world, has struggled in the face of increasing unilateralism by the US and other nations that favour going it alone.

“We are living in a world of disquiet,” Mr Guterres told the audience in New York.

“A great many people fear getting trampled, thwarted, left behind. Machines take their jobs. Traffickers take their dignity. Demagogues take their rights. Warlords take their lives. Fossil fuels take their future.”

He said people still believe in “the spirit and ideas” of the United Nations and its foundation of multilateralism, of all countries working together.

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Antonio Guterres addresses the audience in New York (Mary Altaffer/AP)

But he asked the VIP crowd in the assembly chamber: “Do they believe leaders will put people first?

“We, the leaders must deliver for we, the peoples.”

The global meeting unfolds against the backdrop of flaring tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by its longtime ally, the US. The Saudis say Iran was responsible for an attack earlier this month on two oil facilities in the kingdom, which Iran denies.

The Trump administration has been engaged in an escalating series of harsh words and threats with Tehran. The US has imposed increasingly crippling sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to address world leaders on Wednesday.

Mr Guterres gave a dire warning about the situation in the Gulf.

“Above all, we are facing the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf, the consequences of which the world cannot afford,” he said.

“In a context where a minor miscalculation can lead to a major confrontation, we must do everything possible to push for reason and restraint.”

PA

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