U.S.-China Virus Feud Undercuts UN Bid for Cease-fire Resolution


(Bloomberg) -- The deepening U.S.-China feud is standing in the way of a United Nations Security Council effort to swiftly endorse a 90-day global cease-fire to help countries in conflict deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

For weeks, the U.S. and China have been unable to settle on language for a resolution, paralyzing the diplomatic body as it attempts to advance Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s effort to demand an immediate cessation of armed conflict in war zones. Guterres argues the move would allow for the safe delivery of humanitarian aid during the pandemic.

After weeks of negotiations, the 15-member Security Council has largely coalesced around a joint Tunisian-French resolution. But Chinese-U.S. feuding has slowed the talks, with Beijing seeking language in support of the World Health Organization’s work while the U.S. -- which has suspended funding to the WHO -- demands language on the need for transparency, diplomats said.

“People are losing hope on diplomacy,” Tunisian Ambassador Kais Kabtani said in an interview, his first public comments on the dispute. “These kind of political disagreements need to be dealt with outside the UN and outside the Security Council. We have to show solidarity. We have to overcome these difficulties and put aside these disputes.”

The Trump administration is increasingly pointing the finger at China for what it says are early missteps that delayed an effective response to Covid-19 by other nations, including the U.S., where at least 62,000 people have died. China has disputed that, and said the U.S. should have better prepared in the weeks before the virus reached America.

The UN Council’s failure to respond to the virus underscores a dysfunction in global diplomacy exposed by the pandemic: no clear global leader has emerged to help rally a coordinated response, while nations close borders and stockpile equipment.

“The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how crucial multilateral cooperation is to our collective health and security,” Sven Jürgenson, UN ambassador for Estonia, which takes over as security council president this month, said in an interview. “Finding a compromise on difficult issues can take time but we must keep trying.”

A call for a global cease-fire would be unprecedented, yet it’s not clear what such a resolution could realistically accomplish as the global reported death toll from coronavirus passes 234,000 and confirmed cases exceed 3.2 million.

Guterres, who’s seized on the pandemic as an opportunity to press for a halt to fighting in places like Yemen and Syria, criticized world powers for their foot-dragging.

‘Lack of Leadership’

“It is obvious that there is a lack of leadership,” he told journalists on Thursday. “It is obvious the international community is divided in a moment where it would be more important than ever to be united,” he added, noting “that the relation between the major powers in the world today is very dysfunctional, and that makes it difficult for the Security Council to decide.”

Kabtani and other diplomats say they remain optimistic that a resolution can be reached soon. And French President Emmanuel Macron’s effort to convene a summit with the Security Council’s five permanent members -- China, Russia, U.S., France and the U.K. -- is still likely to succeed, diplomats said.

But Kabtani, who together with French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière is trying bridge the Beijing-Washington rift, warned the major powers that if an agreement can’t be struck soon, the rest of the council will put a resolution for a vote by next week regardless.

“I don’t think anyone will veto a resolution urging a cease-fire,” he said. “We will propose something and move forward. It’s our credibility on the line.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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