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UNITED NATIONS (AP) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned global leaders Tuesday of the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States 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.
Mr. Guterres painted a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet facing “the alarming possibility of armed conflict in the Gulf,” spreading terrorism, rising populism and “exploding” inequality.
His speech was followed by the traditional first speaker—Brazil, represented by its new president, Jair Bolsonaro—and the United States, represented by President Donald Trump.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was scheduled to speak later, said he was returning to London immediately afterward, where he will face the fallout of a court ruling against his decision to shut down Parliament over the is debating the UK in the crucial countdown to the country’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The United Nations, designed to promote a multilateral world, has struggled in the face of increasing unilateralism by the U.S. and other nations that favor going it alone.
Mr. Trump stressed in his speech that “love of our nations makes the world better for all nations.”
“The future does not belong to globalists,” he said. “The future belongs to patriots.”
Not so, said France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who disagreed with the American president and said the world’s problems cannot be solved by turning inwards.
True patriotism, Mr. Macron said, “combines a love of one’s nation” with a multilateralism “based on real cooperation that strives to produce concrete results.”
Said Mr. Guterres: “We are living in a world of disquiet.”
“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.
Yet, the secretary-general said people still believe in “the spirit and ideas” of the United Nations and its foundation of multilateralism, of all countries working together.
But he asked the VIP crowd in the horseshoe-shaped assembly chamber: “Do they believe leaders will put people first?”
“We, the leaders must deliver for we, the peoples,” Mr. Guterres said.
This year’s General Assembly session, which ends September 30, has attracted world leaders from 136 of the 193 UN member nations, according to figures it released Friday. That large turnout reflects a growing global focus on addressing climate change and the perilous state of peace and security.
Other countries will be represented by ministers and vice presidents—except Afghanistan, whose leaders are in a hotly contested presidential campaign ahead of September 28 elections, and North Korea, which downgraded its representation from a minister to, likely, its UN ambassador. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to attend and are sending ministers.