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One of the world’s smallest countries calls for restraint as China, US lock horns at UN

As China and the United States (US) continued to squabble at the United Nations, one of the smallest states in the world, Micronesia, called on both sides to practice restraint.

“Micronesia asks our American and Chinese friends to reinforce their cooperation and friendship with each other … to achieve what is best for our global community,” the Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo told the UN General Assembly in a video address.

Micronesia – with a population of about 113,000 – and its Pacific Island neighbours have long been stuck in a diplomatic tug-of-war between the world’s biggest economic powers as China takes on US influence in a region Washington has considered its backyard since World War Two.

During his Friday address to the gathering of world leaders – pre-recorded due to the pandemic – Panuelo acknowledged that competition had been beneficial for some people in the Pacific.

But he warned that the efforts “also potentially threaten to fracture long-standing alliances within our Pacific community, and could become counterproductive to our collective desire for regional solidarity, security, and stability.”

The US-Chinese showdown is now playing out at the 193-member United Nations, where Beijing has pushed for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to traditional US leadership. Tensions between the two superpowers have hit boiling point at the world body over the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Micronesia’s plea stood out during the annual – yet virtual – gathering of world leaders at the United Nations this week because while most countries called for unity to combat COVID-19, other references to the US and Chinese frictions were generally oblique.

International Crisis Group UN director Richard Gowan said most leaders want to avoid getting entangled in the tensions.

“A lot of the UN’s members think the US is destructive and China is power-hungry. They don’t find either very appealing,” he said. “Ambitious Europeans like (French President Emmanuel) Macron see a chance to fill the leadership gap, so they are willing to challenge Beijing and Washington.”

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