“Covid has proven to be a fire accelerator in conflicts,” says Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. The UN General Assembly is now again offering the opportunity for personal encounters in New York, which was recently missing in international diplomacy because of Covid-19, said Schallenberg. This year’s UN General Assembly shows that “on the one hand there are steps back to normality” and on the other hand that this normality has not yet been achieved “- because the 76th General Assembly is also further restricted by Covid-19, said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz a conversation with traveling journalists in New York.
The US asked in the summer that activities be scaled back during the week of the General Assembly in order to avoid a “superspreader event”. In 2020, the General Assembly was primarily a virtual event. This time, too, there were far fewer delegations than before the pandemic. Austria has decided to send a “strong signal” and so Federal President Alexander van der Bellen, Kurz and Schallenberg came to take part in the General Assembly.
Climate change as a top issue
Van der Bellen took part in a memorial service for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on Monday and a number of meetings with heads of state are on the program. Among other things, Van der Bellen met Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the President of Costa Rica, on Monday evening. It was originally planned that Van der Bellen would travel from New York to Costa Rica, but this plan was then discarded due to the pandemic. Van der Bellen was particularly interested in Costa Rica’s efforts to protect the rainforests in the country. The Federal President – himself an economist – also meets the Canadian economist Mark Carney (he was, among other things, governor of Canada and Great Britain), who advises UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on climate-economic issues. Climate change will be one of the hot topics this week in New York.
Another topic on the agenda of this year’s General Assembly will be the deteriorating climate between the US and China. In addition to Afghanistan, this topic also dominated the meeting of EU foreign ministers who met in New York on Monday. Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States recently announced the formation of the Aukus military alliance, which is clearly directed against China’s growing influence in the Pacific. At the same time, Australia canceled the order for French submarines and instead ordered from Great Britain, which fueled the concern of some EU foreign ministers that France wants to hypnotize a botched arms deal into a crisis between the EU on the one hand and Great Britain and Australia on the other. (see article below) On the agenda item Afghanistan, New York discussed how the Afghan people can be helped without strengthening the Taliban regime in Kabul.
Guterres on social inequality
The General Assembly was opened on Tuesday by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Guterres spoke about it in his speechhow to overcome the division of the world in times of pandemic – an excess of vaccines in Europe and the US and empty pharmacy shelves in other parts of the world. He also pointed to the division of the world when it comes to social inequality: “While billionaires go for jaunts into space, millions of people are hungry.” Climate change was another central theme of his opening speech: “The world is facing the abyss of the climate crisis. ?? It is not too late to reach the 1.5 ° C climate target for Paris – but the window is closing.” In his speech, US President Joe Biden defended the withdrawal from Afghanistan: “Instead of the wars of the past, we are focusing on the challenges of the future,” said Biden. “Bombs and bullets cannot protect against Covid-19 and its variants”. Biden rejected non-pluralistic systems like China: “Government of the people for the people is the best way to serve the people.” At the same time, Biden emphasized that the US does not want a new Cold War, “or a world that is divided into blocks. We want to lead with our values and our strengths in order to stand up for our allies and friends.”
A speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping on video will conclude the General Assembly on Tuesday.
“Biden’s conciliatory tones are positive”
In an interview with the APA in the Permanent Representation of Austria to the United Nations, the Federal Chancellor assessed US President Joe Biden’s speech positively: “The conciliatory tones of US President Joe Biden are positive, we have been experiencing a race between for some time the US and China for supremacy. An escalation of this rivalry would be particularly bad for Europe. “
Chancellor Kurz also welcomed the fact that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres used the General Assembly to speak to the states in conscience on the climate issue. Austria is already well positioned in many areas and will soon be generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources. “But Austria’s greenhouse gas emissions only make up two per thousand of world emissions, if not all of them go along with it, none of this is of any use.”
The meeting with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was about coping with the pandemic. Austria – according to Chancellor Kurz – has repeatedly exchanged ideas with countries such as South Korea, Israel and Australia. Meanwhile, the country has a high vaccination rate, “but it has to get higher, because it is clear that the answer to the pandemic can only be vaccination, because we won’t want to limit ourselves for the coming years, that can only be done through the years to come Vaccinations work, “says Kurz. Another topic of the talks was the relationship between China, the USA and Australia.