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International relations

China is 'champion of multilateralism,' foreign minister says

Wang talks of 'world order,' while Russia's Lavrov blasts 'Western states'

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.   © Reuters

UNITED NATIONS -- China took the floor of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Friday to present itself as a staunch advocate of a multilateral rules-based world order, distancing itself from the patriotism-over-globalism ideology touted by U.S. President Donald Trump in a speech delivered from the same stage earlier this week.

In his address to the assembly, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that multilateral mechanisms were "under attack" and asserted China's long-standing determination to uphold the international order and "remain a champion of multilateralism."

"State-to-state relations must be based on credibility not willful revocation of commitments," Wang told the global body, in what appeared to be a jab at Trump, who has backed away from numerous multilateral agreements since taking office last year.

"International cooperation should be guided by rules, not impulse," he said.

Regarding North Korea, Wang expressed his hope that North Korea would "continue moving along the right direction of denuclearization." Meanwhile he urged the U.S. to make timely and positive responses to meet Pyongyang "halfway." Wang on Thursday called for the easing of North Korean sanctions to reward the "positive developments" made so far.

Wang's speech positions China as an ally of the U.N. and its ideals, and comes as China is stepping up its financial commitments to the organization. Beginning in 2019, China will overtake Japan to become the second-largest contributor to the U.N.'s general budget. Only the U.S. spends more -- though under Trump, Washington has sought to reduce its financial commitment.

"China will continue to fulfill its due financial obligations, and calls upon other member states to pay their membership contributions and peacekeeping assessments on time and in full," Wang said.

The foreign minister also suggested that China is working to uphold free trade and said Beijing "will not be blackmailed or yield to pressure," a clear response to China's trade war with the U.S.

"No one should be allowed to place its own interests above the interests of others," Wang said. "Protectionism will only hurt oneself, and unilateral moves will bring damage to all."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 28.   © Reuters

Russia, which is, like China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council wielding veto power, also based its U.N. speech around the importance of maintaining the rules-based multilateral order, albeit in a markedly harsher tone.

In his address to the assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted "Western states" for seeking to "slow down the irreversible objective process of establishing multipolarity" to maintain their "self-proclaimed status of 'world leaders.'"

"To that end, these powers do not hesitate to use any methods, including political blackmail, economic pressure, and brute force. These illicit acts devalue the international law which underpins the postwar order," Lavrov said.

In a news conference later that day, Lavrov suggested that the U.S. is "attacking multilateralism" and that Washington is, through sanctions and threats, seeking to direct trade only toward itself. "This is all temporary, and in any case they will have to sit down at the table and agree," he said, suggesting that the U.N. is the best place to find a balance of interests and reach agreements.

At the conference, Lavrov also remarked on Trump's speech on Tuesday, which spoke of the importance of sovereignty -- a concept which Russia regularly voices its support for. If the U.S. is genuinely committed to sovereignty, Lavrov said, it shouldn't interfere in the matters of other countries.

The foreign minister wrapped up his address to the assembly with a quote from U.S. President Harry Truman, apparently intended as a suggestion for the U.S. to follow its own advice. "'Great nations lead by the force of example rather than domination."

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