Trump, Putin, Xi among leaders to take virtual stage at UN session

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping among the world leaders to take stage virtually at UN session where coronavirus expected to dominate discussion

  • World leaders will make pre-recorded remarks a the first ever virtual United Nations General assembly meeting this week
  • Both Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s speeches will air Tuesday as they experience the highest number of deaths from coronavirus
  • The global pandemic is expected to dominate this year’s UNGA session 

Donald Trump, Russina President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will all appear on stage at the first ever virtual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week.

The U.N. virtual event will feature several world leaders making pre-recorded speech, likely to focus greatly on the world-wide coronavirus pandemic.

Both Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s speeches are expected to air Tuesday as the U.S. and Brazil have reported the highest and second-highest number respectively of coronavirus deaths.

The coronavirus has inflicted heavy tolls on both countries, close to 200,000 people in the U.S. and over 136,000 in Brazil, according to statistics collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Also on deck are Xi of China, where the virus originated, and Putin of Russia, which has raised international eyebrows with its rapid vaccine development.

After Monday’s introductory session marking the U.N.’s 75th anniversary, the meeting’s central event – speeches from each of its 193 member nations – start Tuesday. They traditionally serve as a platform for countries to tout accomplishments, seek support, stoke rivalries and express views on global priorities.

Donald Trump’s pre-recorded address will play on Tuesday at the first-ever virtual United Nations General Assembly meeting 


Among other world leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) will also deliver pre-recorded addresses, which are all expected to focus on the global coronavirus pandemic 

This year, the platform is online, and there is a pressing new priority in the pandemic that has killed over 960,000 people worldwide.

‘When we met in New York a year ago, no one could have imagined that 2020 would arrange such a powerful crash test for our world,’ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remarked in his video speech for Monday’s anniversary commemoration. 

By custom, Brazil speaks first and the U.S. second as the host country in the annual meeting’s ‘general debate,’ which is generally less a dialogue than a series of declarations.

Both Bolsonaro and Trump have been at odds, at least at times, with governors and health experts over the pandemic and have emphasized the economic consequences of shutdowns.

Both also are contending with plenty of other issues that command world attention, including Bolsonaro´s plans to develop the Amazon and Trump’s 2018 decision to pull the U.S. out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Washington took a further step this weekend with a unilateral, and disputed, declaration that all U.N. penalties eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had been restored, setting up a likely showdown at the assembly – where Iran’s speech is also scheduled Tuesday.

So is Turkey’s, a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the U.N. has ‘flunked during the pandemic.’ 

The President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (on screen), addresses the United Nations General Assembly to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations as it holds it’s first ever virtual session

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in the General Assembly in observance of the International Day of Peace, celebrating 75 Years of the United Nations, at UN headquarters

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, late last year. After building field hospitals and imposing a draconian 76-day lockdown to battle the virus there, China has said of late that it is seeing relatively few cases, mostly among people arriving from other countries. China, the world’s most populous nation, has reported over 4,700 deaths.

Russia, where the death toll is over 19,000, last month became the first country to approve a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. Russian President Vladimir Putin trumpeted the development, saying one of his adult daughters had already been inoculated. But international health experts have expressed caution about the vaccine´s effectiveness and safety because of the small study sample and other limitations.

A record number of heads of states and governments are due to speak at the virtual meeting, rather than sending ministers or diplomats. That’s a good thing, ‘but the idea that prime ministers and presidents are going to be sitting at home with a bucket of popcorn watching each other´s televised speeches is a bit silly,’ said Richard Gowan, who oversees U.N. issues for Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

Still, German U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen sees the assembly as a chance for a global meeting of minds when it’s needed more than ever.

‘Even in a digital format, UNGA-75 is an opportunity – especially in the face of international conflicts and dramatic challenges such as climate change or COVID-19,’ he said.

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