U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged China and the United States on Thursday to "reset" relations, suggesting they cooperate on common interests such as fighting climate change.
"It is clear that in human rights there is no scope for an agreement or a common vision," Guterres acknowledged. "There is an area where I believe there is a growing convergence of interests and my appeal is for that area to be pursued by the two sides together with the whole of the international community — and that area is climate action."
Since the Trump administration announced in June 2017 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, China has continued to move forward to reduce emissions. At the virtual U.N. General Assembly in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced 2060 as Beijing's target for reaching carbon neutrality.
The new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden has made climate action one its top priorities. Biden has appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as the first U.S. presidential envoy on climate and made him a member of his national security team.
Responding to reporters' questions at a hybrid in-person and virtual news conference, the U.N. chief said "there are reasons to hope" that Beijing and Washington will be "strongly involved" in the preparations of the Paris Agreement review conference that is scheduled to take place in Scotland in November.
The White House says Washington is being patient as it seeks a "new approach" toward relations with China at a time when the two countries remain in serious "strategic competition."
The U.N. secretary-general noted that trade and technology issues between the two powers are complex and could result in either "competition or cooperation."
"My appeal is for a serious negotiation on trade and technology to make sure it is possible to preserve one global economy, one global internet, cyber security, and at the same time to have all that in support of the values that are our common values — of justice, equality, of international cooperation, and also for the respect of human rights."
At her confirmation hearing Wednesday, the president's nominee to be U.N. ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told lawmakers, "We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda," which she pledged to push back on firmly.
In the last hours before leaving office, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the Chinese Communist Party has engaged in genocide against the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang. The policy determination could trigger new reviews and sanctions.
Asked if he agreed with the designation, the U.N. chief called it a technical expression left to other "competent bodies" to decide.
"I reaffirm the need for human rights to be respected, also in Xinjiang, and the need for policies to be in place that fully respect the identity of the communities there — the religious and cultural identities — and simultaneously give conditions for each community to feel that they are part of the nation as a whole," Guterres said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights requested many months ago to visit Xinjiang, and Guterres said "negotiations are taking place" and that there is the prospect for a technical mission, which he hopes will move forward.
The secretary-general also welcomed announcements from the Biden administration that it plans to restore funding to several U.N. programs and agencies cut by the previous administration, and to rejoin some multilateral agreements.
"All those things are creating a very positive expectation," the U.N. chief said.
VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report.