Days after U.S. President Donald Trump denounced globalism before world leaders at the United Nations, China and Russia positioned themselves Friday as defenders of internationalism that are keeping promises when Washington is backing away from them.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied his country was trying to eclipse the U.S. as a world leader, but his speech at the U.N. General Assembly was a stark contrast to Trump's "America First" message. It came amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China, which Trump accused this week of interfering in the upcoming U.S. midterm election. China denies the claim.
Russia is also facing U.S. accusations of election meddling, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced the claims as "baseless." He lashed out at U.S. policies in Iran, Syria and Venezuela, while vigorously defending multilateral organizations such as the U.N. and warning against unilateral moves by the U.S. or other countries.
"We see the desire of several Western states to retain their self-proclaimed status as world leaders and to slow down the irreversible, objective process of establishing multipolarity," or multiple centers of power, Lavrov said. "These powers do not hesitate to use any methods, including political blackmail, economic pressure and brute force."
China often portrays itself as an advocate for "win-win" international cooperation, and Wang was hardly the only leader to defend the concept of multilateralism at this week's U.N. gathering of presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and other leaders. But coming in the wake of Trump's proclamation that Americans "reject the ideology of globalism," Wang's speech sounded a note of rebuttal from a competing power.
"Should we seek to uphold the architecture of the world order or allow it to be eroded upon and collapse?" Wang asked. "China's answer is clear-cut. ... China will keep to its commitment and remain a champion of multilateralism."
In a week when Washington raised tariffs on Chinese products and Beijing responded in kind, Wang insisted that "China will not be blackmailed or yield to pressure" and warned that "protectionism will only hurt oneself, and unilateral moves will bring damage to all."
"State-to-state relations must be based on credibility, not on willful revocation of commitments," he said.
Wang highlighted China's massive economy as a major contributor to global growth. He described his country's trade policies as defending not just its own interests but the system of global economic exchange. Most other nations challenge China's assertions that it's a defender of free trade.
And gesturing at China's influence in one of the international community's most pressing issues, he encouraged North Korea — which counts China as its traditional ally and main trading partner — to keep going in "the right direction toward denuclearization."
At the same time, he said the U.S. should "make timely and positive responses so as to truly meet the DPRK halfway" in their ongoing efforts to reach a deal that would bring an end to the nuclear ambitions of the nation formally called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. China says it has been instrumental in reducing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Still, "China will not challenge the United States — still less will China take the place of the United States," Wang said earlier in the day at the Council on Foreign Relations.
China has been asserting itself on the world stage under President Xi Jinping, though it continually stands by a foreign policy of noninterference in the affairs of other countries. It has long used that policy to rebuke other countries that criticize its record on human rights.
The country has come under increased criticism as its global profile has risen and its economic interests — and accompanying political clout — have spread from Asia to Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Besides China's clash with the Trump administration, some Africans have protested what they say is an attempted Chinese takeover of their countries.
The U.S. and China are locked in a dispute over Beijing's high-tech industrial policies. The Trump administration alleges that China steals U.S. trade secrets and forces American companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market. China has accused the Trump administration of bullying.
The U.S. has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products. China has counterpunched with taxes on $110 billion in U.S. imports. The latest round of hikes came Monday.
Two days later, Trump stunned other members of the Security Council by saying that China was meddling in the midterm elections because it opposes his tough trade policies.
When questioned by reporters, Trump said there was "plenty" of evidence but didn't immediately provide details. Instead, he zeroed in on China's efforts to flood the U.S. with ads and statements against Trump's billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese goods.
Beijing was quick to respond, urging Washington to stop slandering China and claiming that the Chinese government does not interfere in other countries' internal affairs.
Wang didn't address the election-meddling claim Friday.
Lavrov, meanwhile, held a flurry of individual meetings with other countries at the U.N. this week and vociferously defended Russia's strategies in meetings at the Security Council.
Syria has been a running theme as Moscow seeks to manage the end of the civil war and ensure a long-term foothold in the region. As a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia wants Western aid for financing postwar reconstruction while also maintaining its upper hand in discussions about the country's political future.
Lavrov promised wide-ranging Russian aid in a meeting with embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who faces international condemnation, increasing U.S. sanctions and fears of a possible U.S. intervention.
Seeking to maintain leverage in discussions on North Korea's denuclearization efforts, Lavrov met with North Korea's foreign minister the same day that Ri Yong Ho met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Lavrov also offered support to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas right after Abbas slammed the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Friday's speakers at the General Assembly included Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who returned to politics this year after having retired in 2003.
The 93-year-old Mahathir noted that in his last speech at the forum shortly before his retirement, "I lamented how the world had lost its way."
And it hasn't been found, he said.
"If at all, the world is far worse than 15 years ago."
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton, Matthew Pennington and Edith M. Lederer contributed.