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The Inside Story-Biden's UN Debut-TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: Biden’s U.N. Debut (Episode 06 – September 23, 2021)

Voice of KATHERINE GYPSON, VOA Congressional Correspondent:

In his first U.N. speech, President Biden reasserts America’s place in the world.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

I stand here today for the first time in 20 years the United States not at war. We have turned the page.


Topping Biden’s foreign policy priorities: Climate, COVID and China.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

I know this: as we look ahead, we will lead, we will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time.


The global challenges facing the new U.S. president, next on The Inside Story: Biden’s U.N. Debut.


Hi. I’m Katherine Gypson, VOA’s Congressional Correspondent.

Shortly after his inauguration as the new U.S. president, Joe Biden told State Department workers, quote, “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”

This week, Biden outlined his foreign policy vision and priorities to an audience of fellow world leaders at the 76th UN General Assembly.

Having ended America’s longest war by pulling troops out of Afghanistan, Biden pressed an agenda that could be described as the three C’s: climate, COVID and China.

Add a diplomatic spat between the US and France and Biden had plenty to deal with for his first U.N. speech.

VOA’s White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara gets us started from New York:

PATSY WIDAKUSWARA, VOA White House Bureau Chief:

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden declared his administration ready to help the world tackle global challenges.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

Ending this pandemic, addressing the climate crisis, managing the shifts in global power dynamics, shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber and emerging technologies, and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today.


Recognizing rising U.S. tensions with China and Russia, Biden said major powers must manage relationships and avoid conflict.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreement in other areas, because we'll all suffer the consequences of our failure.


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also urged immediate action.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General:

COVID and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities of societies and as a planet. Yet instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the pacts of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction.


Biden promised to boost funding — up to $11.4 billion — to help developing nations cope with the ravages of climate change and build greener economies. Some are skeptical of his commitment.

Joseph Majkut, Center for Strategic and International Studies:

The U.S. also has a history of making fairly large pledges of internet support for national climate finance but missing them when it comes to actually sending the money.


Still, Biden’s speech is a departure from his predecessor’s rejection of multilateralism and globalism. But he faces an uphill battle convincing allies that America is back and ready to lead.

Michael Kugelman, Wilson Center:

The fiasco that took place in Afghanistan over the last few weeks of the withdrawal certainly caused a lot of alarm in many key capitals. And I think that President Biden needs to use global forums like the UNGA meetings to try to send a very important message to the world, and including NATO partners and treaty allies in Asia, that despite what may have happened in Afghanistan, the U.S. remains committed to its allies and its partners.


Despite the chaotic withdrawal, Biden framed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan as an end to “relentless war" and the beginning of a “new era of relentless diplomacy.”

But on the diplomatic front, Biden is already dealing with French anger over the recent U.S. and U.K. announcement to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, which scuttled President Emmanuel Macron’s conventional submarine deal.

While frayed relations need to be repaired, analysts say, it’s unlikely to have long-term impact.

Stacie Goddard, Wellesley College Political Science Professor:

The bigger issue of U.S. credibility is whether or not the United States can continue to signal that it willing to provide global public goods — of security, of economic aid — to its allies and partners and, when necessary, to work with the rest of the globe.


Patsy Widakuswara, VOA News.


The head of the United Nations welcomed world leaders back, after a pandemic-induced virtual gathering in 2020. UN Chief Antonio Guterres starkly outlined the challenges the world is facing. He also specifically called on the United States and China to reduce tensions in their relationship. In his own words, the Secretary General urged both superpowers to tone down their increasingly heated rhetoric.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres:

It will be impossible for the dramatic economic and develop challenges, while the world's two largest economies are at odds with each other. Yet I fear our world is creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial, and technological rules. Two divergent approaches into development artificial intelligence. And ultimately, the risk of two different military and geopolitical strategies. And this is a recipe for trouble.
It will be far less predictable than the Cold War.

To restore trust, and inspire hope, we need cooperation. We need dialogue. We need understanding. We need to invest in prevention, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. We need progress on nuclear disarmament and in our shared efforts to counter terrorism. We need actions anchored in respect for human rights. And we need a new comprehensive agenda for peace.


For many Afghan women, the recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban represents a return to a lifestyle of limited opportunities. Even with government officials announcing policies on women’s education, many are skeptical. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports on how some women are taking the street marching for their rights.

Voices of demonstrators:

Panjshir is fighting for all of Afghanistan.


The Taliban said Sunday that women can continue their higher education in gender-segregated classrooms and so long as they wear a hijab.

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, Taliban Acting Higher Education Minister:

The first solution is that there must be places where boys can be separated from girls. Or, the second solution, there should be specified times for boys and specified times for girls. The third solution is… there must be a partition in class.


Haqqani says the Taliban-dubbed Islamic Emirate will not oppose education that follows Islamic law. Advocates for women have voiced skepticism.

Alison Davidian, UN Women in Afghanistan:

Every day we are receiving reports of rollbacks on women’s rights. Women are prohibited from leaving the house without a mahra. In some provinces they’re stopped from going to work. Women protection centers that provide essential services for women who flee violence have been attacked.


Davidian added that safe houses are at full capacity.

Last week in Afghanistan, women joined anti-Taliban protests in Kabul.

The interior ministry of the Taliban government recently issued an order to end all protests in the country unless demonstrators first receive permission, including for slogans and banners. Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.


With the U.S. now out of Afghanistan, the international community is waiting to see which countries step in to provide support. Some experts say China and Pakistan are already laying the groundwork to offer short-term aid and long-term investment for the Taliban acting government in Kabul.

While Afghanistan’s border with China is relatively short, how they and neighboring Pakistan act has major implications for the region -- and for U.S. security interests. VOA senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine explains.

CINDY SAINE, VOA Senior Diplomatic Correspondent:

Some Afghans are selling their prized possessions to finance their escape from Taliban rule, or just to pay for food. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the country is facing a humanitarian crisis.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General:

Humanitarian aid will not solve the problem if the economy of Afghanistan collapses, and we know that the risk is enormous and that there is a dramatic lack of cash.


The international community pledged more than $1.2 billion for humanitarian and development assistance for Afghanistan. The Taliban’s acting foreign minister also called for access to the country’s $10 billion in foreign assets, much of which has been frozen in the United States.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, Taliban Acting Foreign Minister:

We believe that the USA is a big country; they need to have a big heart. Afghanistan is a poor country and must not be treated cruelly. We want positive and inclusive relations with the international community, and we ask them also to stop putting more pressure on the Afghan people.


The U.S. and other Western countries are calling on the Taliban to respect human rights — and in particular, the rights of women and girls — before the assets are released. But China and Pakistan have sent food and health supplies to the Taliban acting government and held meetings with Taliban representatives. Experts say for Pakistan, this support for the Taliban is nothing new.

Maximilian Hess, Foreign Policy Research Institute:

Pakistan certainly has had a relationship with the Taliban or individuals who constitute some of the Taliban leadership going back over 30 years.”


The U.S. State Department is calling on Pakistan to hold the Taliban accountable, as Islamabad had pledged to do.

Ned Price, State Department Spokesperson:

We are going to continue to look to Pakistan and to other countries in the region to make good on their public statements on commitments they have made to in different ways to step up to support the people of Afghanistan.


Another analyst points out that for Pakistan, India is always a factor in the equation.

Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Council on Foreign Relations:

Pakistan is worried about India. India is its number one enemy, and so it definitely wants a government in Afghanistan that is friendly towards Pakistan and not towards India.


As for China, one expert says the important thing to keep an eye on is long-term investment in Afghanistan.

Maximilian Hess, Foreign Policy Research Institute:

With regards to China, it's the potential for investment over the long term following the template that is used on its Belt and Road program in Central Asia. This would typically begin with grants for large-scale road and infrastructure construction. Those have not been announced yet.


Another expert points out that investing in Afghanistan is a risky proposition.

Manjari Chattarjee Miller, Council on Foreign Relations:

China has been very careful about how it supports Afghanistan and essentially doesn't want to be sinking money into a black hole with no guarantees of either government survival or any guarantees of the jihadi groups that China's worried about that the Taliban supports.


Qatar is also providing tons of medical and food aid to Afghanistan and is working to get the Kabul airport back up and running. Cindy Saine, VOA News.

Voice of narrator:

Long before China began using N95 masks and COVID-19 vaccines as part of its diplomatic efforts, it used pandas. The furry bears have been used by China to generate goodwill with other countries for more than 1000 years.

During the Tang Dynasty, Chinese emperor Wu Zeitan presented Japan with two handouts. During the modern era, in 1941, just before the United States entered World War Two, Beijing sent two cuddly black and whites to the Bronx Zoo as a thank you gift. The practice hit its stride during the Cold War. Moa Tse Tung sent pandas to China's Communist allies, Russia and North Korea, in the 1950s. After US President Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972, Beijing gave the United States two giant pandas. Nixon said of the pandas impending us arrival, “it's going to be a hell of a story.” He was right. More than 20,000 people visited the pandas the first day they were on display at the National Zoo in Washington in 1972, the first of 1.1 million visitors during the first year. The gift inspired British Prime Minister Edward Heath, to ask China for pandas London Zoo during his 1974 visit to China.

The panda adoration inspired the World Wildlife Fund to adopt the bear as its logo. In 1984 China changed its panda policy as environmental groups began to list the bears as an endangered species. Beijing switched to lending the bears instead of gifting them, and made it clear that any cubs born overseas belonged to China. During the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles the United States paid $50,000 a month to borrow pandas. Now, zoos around the world typically pay up to $10 million for a 10-year loan period.

The animals bring zoos millions in revenue each year. When new pandas arrived at the National Zoo in Washington in 2001, the zoo, which charges no entry fee, nearly doubled its merchandise and food sales.

The animals are also an enormous expense, however. Apart from China's lone charge, pandas cost roughly $500,000 a year in care. National Geographic reports that is more than five times the cost of the next most expensive animals, elephants. The costs add up because pandas eat special bamboo, live ain custom built enclosures, and often require invitro fertilization treatments to produce panda cubs. Chinese officials have acknowledged that pandas’ popularity has aided diplomatic efforts. The Chinese ambassador to the United States said that in 2013 there are actually two Chinese ambassadors in Washington: me and the panda cub at the National Zoo.

Voice of narrator, continued:

An Oxford University study in 2013 found that China gave pandas, either to Asian countries with which it had recently signed trade agreements or to nations that had supplied it with natural resources and technology. The study also found that China would recall its pandas to show disapproval. In 2010 two US born panda cubs that were due to return to China were put on a flight just days after US President Barack Obama defied China's wishes by meeting the Dalai Lama.

Recently, as tensions between the United States and China have been strained by a range of issues, China renewed the national zoo’s panda loan for three more years but called for them to be returned in 2023. Pandas in the southern US city of Memphis, Tennessee have come under scrutiny after Chinese social media posts went viral, claiming that the animals looked unwell. Memphis Zoo officials have denied the bears are sick and said they are checked by veterinary teams every day.

Beijing controls all the world's pandas, which are native only to South Central China's mountain ranges. They also used to inhabit lowland areas, but their terrain has become more restricted because of farming and development. An estimated 1800 pandas within the wild live in China, while 600 pandas live in zoos or breeding centers around the world. The animals are no longer endangered but are listed as vulnerable.


One possible flashpoint in the US-China relationship is Taiwan. The island is east of mainland China and governed independently since 1949. But China views Taiwan as part of its territory.

But the US still sells military weapons to Taiwan even though it no longer recognizes Taiwan diplomatically. And China is using the U.S. departure from Afghanistan to sow doubt in Taiwan about the strength of America’s backing. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee walks us through the situation.

ELIZABETH LEE, VOA Correspondent:

With the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the American troop withdrawal, China’s government-backed Global Times newspaper is suggesting Taiwan could suffer the same fate as Afghanistan. A newspaper editorial described the U.S. as an “unreliable” partner.

But the U.S. considers the Taiwan Strait to be key to the “security and stability” of the Indo-Pacific region.

Ned Price, U.S. State Department Spokesperson:

We urge Beijing, as we have before, to cease its military, diplomatic, economic pressure against Taiwan and instead to engage in meaningful dialogue.


On Twitter, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, accused China of “emulating the Taliban.” He wrote, “we have the will and means to defend ourselves.”

Analysts say China’s aim is to isolate Taiwan.

Scott Harold, RAND Corporation:

I think that that article needs to be understood as for what it is, which is a piece of political warfare.


Without an American presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. may be able to focus more on Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region, says political scientist Scott Harold.

Scott W. Harold, RAND Corporation:

The United States’ explanation for why it was withdrawing from Afghanistan was so as to focus on countering China, Russia and other malign great power actors and not continuing to try to sustain a government that unfortunately we saw was not able to survive much beyond the period when the United States withdrew its very active support.


Analysts say the U.S. is not the only country that has an interest in security in the region. China’s control of Taiwan would have serious implications for U.S. allies in the region, says analyst Michael Shoebridge.

Michael Shoebridge, Australian Strategic Policy Institute:

Being in the possession of the Chinese would be a huge power projection platform for them way beyond those tiny little bases they built in the South China Sea, and it would have a more profound power projection effect for them as a result that it would cut right into the U.S. alliance relationships with Japan and Korea, so it's a fundamental security issue for the Indo-Pacific and for Australia as a result.

Scott Harold, RAND Corporation:

Taiwan is not only the key to the first island chain of the security of America's allies and partners in the Philippines, Japan and South Korea as well as Australia, but it's also the key to the global supply chain of semiconductors and other advanced technologies.


With news of how Beijing represses the country’s Uyghur Muslim minority and continuing questions about COVID-19's origins, analysts say there is also more public support in the U.S. to defend Taiwan against China than to remain in Afghanistan.

Scott Harold, RAND Corporation:

The trends that we see in the populace as a whole are substantially greater. In the elite and decision-making circles, I think China is more widely recognized as a threat there, and I think Taiwan's importance has only grown over the last four or five years from an already fairly strong base.


China considers Taiwan a renegade province and a domestic matter. Beijing, through the editorial, encourages Taiwan to seek peace with China politically. Elizabeth Lee, VOA News, Washington.


Word of a new trilateral defense pact by the U.S, Britain and Australia has jeopardized ties with one of America’s major European allies.

France, caught off guard by news of the deal, recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia.

The developments are also coming at a time when North and South Korea are ramping up missile testing in the Indo-Pacific region.

VOA’s Bill Gallo is monitoring the latest missile activity and what it means regionally and globally. He spoke to us earlier from Seoul.

WILLIAM GALLO, VOA Seoul Bureau Chief:

So, we haven't seen any North Korean missile activity in about six months. Then we saw them launch a cruise missile, which could actually reach all of South Korea and most of Japan. That was last week and then a couple days later we saw them launch a ballistic missile. This missile was launched from a train, which is very interesting because North Korea seems to be trying to launch missiles from as many different types of basing platforms as it can. It's already working on launching them from submarines, it can do this from road mobile launchers and now trains. It's not, you know, that dangerous in and of itself, it just forces the US, South Korea and Japan to monitor all these different types of missile launchers, and that makes it a bit more difficult.

This is definitely not just a North Korea thing, it’s not just a North and South Korea thing. China is doing it, Taiwan is doing it, Japan is even thinking of doing it. We saw Australia in the news with these nuclear-powered submarines that they're getting with the help of the US. So it's true I think North Korea will see this as, ‘why should we be the only ones to stop testing our missiles it everyone else, including our main rival in South Korea, is getting really advanced weapons?

Coming into the start of the Biden administration there was I think a widespread expectation in both North and South Korea that we would see a return to the Barack Obama era of strategic patience, which was sort of gradually ramp up pressure on North Korea, in the hopes that this would return them to the negotiating table. but don't do anything really to rock the boat, whether that's through diplomacy, whether it, whether that's through big, big sanctions. And so basically that's somewhat the approaching you’ve seen the Biden administration take. It repeatedly says almost on a daily basis, it's open talks with North Korea. However, it's not really seeming to offer anything that North Korea wants in the form of relaxed sanctions, or any kind of an end of hostilities agreement for the Korean War that's been going on for 70 years, technically. And so I don't really know that even though you have these offers of talks from the Biden administration that there really is going to be any progress on this.

There is some frustration in South Korea because they really desperately want progress on denuclearization and on peace talks. But despite there being some sort of high-level diplomacy as Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense of the US have also visited the region since the Biden administration began. However, you know, most of this was just repeating talking points, there may be something going on behind the scenes we don't know about, but it doesn't seem like it.


That’s all for now. Stay with for the latest news from the United Nations General Assembly meetings. And stay connected @VOANews on Instagram and Facebook. I’m Katherine Gypson reporting from Washington, D.C. See you next week for The Inside Story.