World leaders gathered virtually on Tuesday for this week’s United Nations General Assembly, with the UN’s historic 75th anniversary overshadowed by strongmen leaders, fraying relations and a sense of intensifying international crisis.
The summit was forced online this year due to the pandemic and the 14-day quarantine regulations in New York City.
As Covid-19 loomed heavily over the first day of the event, UN officials, presidents and prime ministers sent pre-recorded speeches to mark the occasion instead of meeting in person.
U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and a suite of strongmen all spoke early on Tuesday including South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Highlights from day one of the virtual general debate:
the coronavirus, the “economic calamity” it unleashed and the risk of a new Cold War between the U.S. and China.
AND, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s call to officially declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War as it is the first step toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Let’s talk about it: Live in the studio with me, Song Se-ryun, Professor of Law at Kyung Hee University and later in the show, Andrei Lankov, North Korea expert, joins us via Skype.

Professor Song, so great to see you again.

Having watched the first day of the virtual UN general debate, what is your overall assessment of this year’s gathering? How would you sum up day one of the day one of the 75th UN General Debate?

While the virtual meeting is unique in the UN’s 75-year history, the speeches from leaders hit on all the conflicts, crises and divisions facing a world that the Secretary-General Guterres said is witnessing “rising inequalities, climate catastrophe, widening societal divisions, rampant corruption” therefore requires global unity.
But, almost as soon as the leaders’ speeches kicked off, what we witnessed was the rivalry between the two superpowers in full display as President Donald Trump urged the UN to hold Beijing “accountable” for failing to contain the virus. To which, China’s ambassador immediately rejected as “totally baseless.”
U.S. and China taking swipes at one another on the UN stage – how is this being received?

Meanwhile, for regional observers, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to world leaders to bring the 70-year-old Korean War to a formal end was also one that couldn’t be missed.
It’s his latest attempt to resuscitate stalled talks between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea.
Let’s turn to a North Korea expert for his view on the South Korean leader’s latest effort.
Andrei Lankov, Professor at Kookmin University, joins us live.

Professor Lankov, good to see you again.

South Korea, although very much a direct party of interest in this Korea peninsula peace process, is not, however, one of the signatories of the Armistice Agreement – the ceasefire agreement signed on July 27th, 1953.
How will President Moon’s proposal for an end of war declaration resonate with the signatories – North Korea, China, and the U.S.-led UNC, so the U.S.?

President Moon has made such proposals before, but what’s different this time is that he urges world leaders to provide support for the end-of-war declaration which he believes will “open the door to complete denuclearization and a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
So, security guarantee first and then denuclearization of North Korea.
What the U.S. and South Korea, as well, have been insisting, so far, have been that Pyeongyang must denuclearize first in order for Washington to provide the North with security guarantee and everything else, is it not?

What is President Moon’s intent in making such an offer at the UN General Assembly as he takes the UN stage for the fourth year this time?

Andrei Lankov, Professor at Kookmin University, many thanks for your insights this evening.

Professor Song, U.S. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, made no mention of North Korea at all.
What are you making out of this?

Tensions with the U.S. also dominated a fiery speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is facing the worst COVID-19 crisis in the Middle East.
He lashed out at U.S. sanctions but declared that his country will not submit to U.S. pressure.
Trump signed an executive order this week to enforce all UN sanctions on Iran because it’s not complying with a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but most of the world rejects it as illegal.
Do we need to again question the power of the UN and its role – watchdog or paper tiger?

Despite all, world leaders struck the same note on the UN stage – inclusive multilateralism faced with a challenge like the pandemic. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, the way we tackle Covid-19 as a global community will be key as this pandemic will only be the first of many more to come.
How should the international community battle the pandemic out working together and making sure no one is left behind along the way?

Professor Song Se-ryun of Kyung Hee University, many thanks for your insights. We appreciate it.

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