French President Macron tells UN to wake up with swipe at US and China

French President Emmanuel Macron virtually addresses the general debate of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 22, 2020. PHOTO: AFP/UNITED NATIONS

UNITED NATIONS (BLOOMBERG) - The coronavirus pandemic must serve as an "electric shock" that wakes up the United Nations, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech on Tuesday (Sept 22), which included veiled attacks on the Unites States and China.

Mr Macron is trying to find a new way to revive the multilateral order, which has been strained to breaking point by the increasingly hostile rivalry between the US and a Chinese government that is seeking to expand its influence.

President Donald Trump's determination to redraw the US relationship with the rest of the world has seen the World Trade Organisation sidelined and agreements on climate change and Iran's nuclear programme called into question.

In May, he announced he was withdrawing from the World Health Organisation, the UN's health agency, because it was unduly influenced by China.

Mr Macron on Tuesday rejected US demands for UN members to reimpose international sanctions on Iran, arguing the Trump administration had forfeited the right to trigger such measures when it withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018.

Following the US lead now "would undermine the unity of the Security Council, the integrity of its decisions, and would run the risk of further aggravating tensions in the region," he said.

It's not the first time France's 42-year-old leader has offered blunt and bleak assessments of the traditional international order. Last year, he said NATO was "brain dead" and wondered whether its commitment to collective defence still held. But now he's arguing that the pandemic is an inflection point that offers a chance to make real changes.


Giving an overview of the economic, security and social tolls of Covid-19, Mr Macron said people all over the world had expected leaders to cooperate and find solutions. Instead, he said, there was a fracturing in which key international organisations, like the WHO, were accused by some of complacency and instrumentalised by others.

"Our organisation itself ran the risk of impotency," with permanent members not able to meet at the peak of the epidemic "because two of them preferred to display their rivalry," Mr Macron said in a veiled jab at China and the US.

He delivered his address to the annual UN General Assembly by video because it is being held virtually this week.

"We can't close our eyes anymore," he said. "We can no longer be satisfied with a multilateralism of words that only allows us to agree on the lowest common denominator, a way of hiding deep divergences under a façade of consensus."

Still, there was reason for optimism, Mr Macron said, citing "signs of hope" during the epidemic - the European Union for example showed unity, sovereignty and solidarity when everyone had predicted the opposite.

At the heart of a new era, must be the struggle against inequalities of all kinds and a concerted effort to tackle climate change, Mr Macron said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.