UNITED NATIONS — Days after U.S. President Donald Trump denounced globalism before world leaders at the United Nations, China and Russia positioned themselves Friday as defenders of internationalism that are keeping promises when Washington is backing away from them.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied his country was trying to eclipse the U.S. as a world leader, but his speech at the U.N. General Assembly was a stark contrast to Trump’s “America First” message. It came amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China, which Trump accused this week of interfering in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. China denies the claim.
Russia is also facing U.S. accusations of election meddling, which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced as “baseless,” but didn’t dwell on.
His country has been working to make itself a counterweight to Washington’s global influence, and Lavrov used his speech to lash out at U.S. policies in Iran, Syria and elsewhere and vigorously defended multilateral organizations such as the U.N.
“Diplomacy and the culture of negotiations and compromise have been increasingly replaced by dictates and unilateral” moves, Lavrov said. In a swipe at U.S. and EU sanctions over Russia’s own activities abroad, he said the Western powers “do not hesitate to use any methods including political blackmail, economic pressure and brute force.”
Lavrov and Wang were hardly the only leaders to defend the concept of multilateralism at this week’s U.N. gathering of presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and other leaders. But coming in the wake of Trump’s proclamation that Americans “reject the ideology of globalism,” the Chinese and Russian speeches sounded a note of rebuttal from competing powers.
“Should we seek to uphold the architecture of the world order or allow it to be eroded upon and collapse?” Wang asked. “China’s answer is clear-cut. … China will keep to its commitment and remain a champion of multilateralism.”
Taking up the mantle of multilateralism isn’t without self-interest for Russia and China.
The U.N., for instance, gives them a forum to drive events in their interest and block moves they oppose by the U.S. and other Western countries. Russia and China both have veto power on the powerful Security Council and have used it in recent years against measures on such issues as the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which counts Russia as a close ally. The U.S. also has used its veto recently.
In a week when Washington raised tariffs on Chinese products and Beijing responded in kind, Wang insisted that “China will not be blackmailed or yield to pressure” and warned that “protectionism will only hurt oneself, and unilateral moves will bring damage to all.”
“State-to-state relations must be based on credibility, not on willful revocation of commitments,” he said.
Wang highlighted China’s massive economy as a major contributor to global growth. He described his country’s trade policies as defending not just its own interests but the system of global economic exchange. Most other nations challenge China’s assertions that it’s a defender of free trade.
China has come under increased criticism as its global profile has risen and its economic interests — and accompanying political clout — have spread from Asia to Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Besides China’s clash with the Trump administration, some Africans have protested what they say is an attempted Chinese takeover of their countries.
The Trump administration alleges that China steals U.S. trade secrets and forces American companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market. China has accused the Trump administration of bullying.
Trump stunned members of the Security Council on Wednesday by saying that China was meddling in the midterm elections because it opposes his tough trade policies. He later said there was “plenty” of evidence but didn’t immediately provide it.
Beijing was quick to respond, urging Washington to stop slandering China and claiming that the Chinese government does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.
Wang didn’t address the election-meddling claim Friday.
China has been asserting itself on the world stage under President Xi Jinping, though it continually stands by a foreign policy of noninterference in the affairs of other countries. It has long used that policy to rebuke other countries that criticize its record on human rights.
And gesturing at China’s influence in one of the international community’s most pressing issues, he encouraged North Korea — which counts China as its traditional ally and main trading partner — to keep going in “the right direction toward denuclearization.”
At the same time, he said the U.S. should “make timely and positive responses so as to truly meet the DPRK halfway” in their ongoing efforts to reach a deal that would bring an end to the nuclear ambitions of the nation formally called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. China says it has been instrumental in reducing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Still, “China will not challenge the United States — still less will China take the place of the United States,” Wang said earlier in the day at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Lavrov, meanwhile, spotlighted Russia’s role in efforts to end the civil war in Syria, where the government counts Russia as its closest ally.
And he said Moscow will do “everything possible” to preserve the multinational 2015 deal deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, despite the U.S. decision to withdraw from it. Lavrov called the U.S. move a violation of U.N. resolutions and a threat to stability in the Middle East.
Seeking to maintain leverage in discussions on North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, Lavrov met with North Korea’s foreign minister earlier this week on the same day that Ri Yong Ho met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Other countries, including some of Washington’s allies, also appealed at the General Assembly on Friday for preserving the framework of multinational collaboration.
“Action based solely on nationalism, with the objective of putting ‘my country first,’ reaches its limits here — not least because our climate knows no borders,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He noted that his country is standing by the Paris accord to tackle global warming — an agreement Trump has announced the U.S. will withdraw from unless it gets a better deal.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, meanwhile, thanked the international community and the U.N. for its help in fighting the Islamic State extremist group. He said “a new era in Iraq’s story” is beginning after years of war and turmoil.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad offered a personal perspective on how the international order is faring. Now 93, he returned to politics this year after retiring in 2003.
Mahathir noted that in his last speech at the forum shortly before his retirement, “I lamented how the world had lost its way.”
And it hasn’t been found, he said.
“If at all, the world is far worse than 15 years ago.”
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton, Matthew Pennington and Edith M. Lederer contributed.