China and Russia vs. MetallicaSeptember 23, 2022
Follow Ryan on Twitter
Good morning from New York, where it’s Day 5 of the U.N. General Assembly high-level week.
Most of the big players have left the city — Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have all flown out. But we still have yet to hear from some big names.
CLOSING THE WEEK — CHINA AND RUSSIA VS. METALLICA: Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi are due to address the General Assembly Saturday — competing for attention with Mariah Carey, Metallica and Eurovision winners Måneskin — the headline acts of the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: Don’t miss Ryan’s interview with World Bank President David Malpass today at 10:30 a.m. Register to watch live.
It comes as Malpass is embroiled in controversy after earlier this week repeatedly declining to say he agreed with the scientific consensus that the planet’s climate is changing dangerously. He later sought to walk back that skepticism in a note to World Bank staff, seen by POLITICO, saying it is “clear” that humans are causing the planet to heat up.
EASY LISTENING: If you’re already starting to have UNGA withdrawal symptoms, as the main action draws to a close, check out our EU Confidential podcast, broadcast here from New York, offering a rundown of all this week’s activities with our team of ace reporters.
And the latest Global Insider episode looks at our broken energy systems, with Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre and Rockefeller Foundation CEO Rajiv Shah.
UP TODAY: European Council President Charles Michel will deliver the EU address mid-morning at the U.N. General Assembly.
SECURITY COUNCIL SPOTLIGHT
Thursday’s meeting of some of the big guns around the Security Council table brought focus once again on just how anachronistic the 15-member body has become, with — surprise, surprise — lots of talk but no action.
Getting that spot: But a spot at the horseshoe table is still a coveted prize for many countries who get their stint at what’s still the U.N. body that carries the most heft.
Making the cut: Playbook sat down with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod to find out how Copenhagen is preparing for its bid for a non-permanent seat.
The Scandi country held a chic ceremony at the Ford Foundation Center last night, roping in the big names to try and make their case for a seat on the Security Council. Guest of honor was Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark — yup, that’s the same princess who was mistakenly invited and then uninvited by the British Foreign Office to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday. But Mary’s husband, Prince Frederik, had to cancel his trip to the U.N. He accompanied his mother, Queen Margrethe, to the funeral in London, and she caught Covid.
Aside from the glitz and glam: While Denmark unashamedly capitalized on the glamor of the royal family last night, Kofod insists that it is campaigning based on its “values” (reminder that Ireland hosted all U.N. ambassadors for a performance of Riverdance at Radio City Music Hall and roped in Bono to help it win its current seat).
“We think Denmark with its long legacy of supporting the U.N., working on peace and security very actively in the U.N., we think that we can contribute to solving some of the many crises the world is in,” says Kofod.
“Our bid is firmly based on our values — our support for multilateralism, for democratic values — values that are under pressure in the world today. We will also fight for issues like including women in peace and security and climate,” noting that climate is still not accepted as an issue on the Security Council, despite its links with security.”
On U.N. reform: “We have a clear position: the council should reflect more the world we’re in today than the world when the U.N. was founded.”
DIAMONDS ARE DEVELOPMENT’S BEST FRIEND?
For many organizations, UNGA means business. This week that included a campaign called Diamonds for Development led by the Botswana government, with support from Belgium, Microsoft and diamond producer HB Antwerp. Together the organizations say they’re determined to help reset Europe-Africa relations, bring transparency to a notoriously opaque industry, and find ways to upskill and increase the incomes of African populations. Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi told POLITICO this work will represent nothing less than a “seismic shift” in the diamond industry.
Sounds too good to be true? It’s also about hard cash: Americans buy half of Botswana’s diamonds.
The diamond industry is the foundation of Botswana’s wealth, but it’s also been a source of exploitation, Masisi said: “When my country gained independence in 1966, we were a basket case, riddled with malnutrition. We couldn't sustain our budget. We had about three or four kilometers of tarred road [and] less than 10 people had been to university,” he said.
The original generation of diamond miners in Botswana “had no intention of developing us as a people or a country beyond diggers,” Masisi said.
Glow-up: Now Botswana is a model democracy — a high middle-income country, and one of only six to have left behind the official U.N. classification of Least Developed Country in the last 50 years. The country ranks higher in many democracy indexes than Belgium, said Vincent Van Quickenborne, a Belgian Deputy Prime Minister. Masisi proudly told an audience assembled for a “Diamond Gala” dinner at a Fifth Avenue mansion Thursday night that the center pipe of the Jwaneng mine was “the richest piece of real estate on the earth.”
Teamwork: Jwaneng may be the world’s most valuable diamond mine, but it’s the revolutionary work from relatively small HB Antwerp that really animates Masisi. They’re beginning to use blockchain technology to transform diamond industry transparency: aiming to show exactly where a diamond come from, down the the square meter, with the intent of increasing its value and to prove to consumers that the diamond is, say, not a conflict-tainted Russian diamond. And unlike past generations of miners: most of the skills and value creation will remain on the ground in Botswana.
“I really applaud Belgium and Antwerp for accepting this new relationship,” Masisi told a New York audience. For its part, HB Antwerp co-founder Rafael Papismedov said the company chose Botswana because it has the best democratic governance in Africa. “Botswana didn’t need us,” he said, but in a race to lift industry standards, HB needed Botswana.
“We are resolute. This is the relationship that we want. We want maximum value from what is ours, and I pray that my people will be involved in every step of the innovations,” Masisi said.
Sharing is caring: Masisi thinks HB’s model can be spread to other mining industries and other countries in Southern Africa in particular. “We want to go out and really market this model, because we want to see the relationship between the African governments and those who they partner with fundamentally change. There's no reason to think we're going to attain the SDGs without these models,” he said.
Botswana vs. China: Botswana (population 2.4 million), is “campaigning vigorously” to win the right to house the headquarters of the Kimberley Process, a center that prevents conflict diamond mining — facing off against China (population 1.4 billion), in a November vote.
It always comes back to Russia: Russian diamonds are now conflict diamonds: POLITICO’s Ilya Gridneff reports on how Russian diamonds have remained a shining absence from the European Union’s sanctions list, in part due to Belgium’s prominent role in the diamond industry.
Russia and Botswana are the two leading diamond producers globally.
EDUCATION REVOLUTION AT UNGA
DON’T FEAR THE ROBOT TAKEOVER: As leaders battle it out over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s easy to overlook the major efforts educators have made this UNGA to deal with the Covid fallout in education, and the tech revolution that’s about to descend on the sector.
Professor Cynthia Breazeal, dean for digital learning at MIT and director of MIT RAISE, came to New York on a mission to change minds about AI and robots.
It’s a field dominated by talk of efficiency and cost-saving, and fears about job losses and surveillance. But Breazeal came to preach about “design justice” and “AI that helps promote human flourishing,” and she wants your kids to use AI both in school and outside of it.
She makes a strong case: Her research makes a case that AI is a potential savior for children whose education trajectories were skewed by Covid, and others including refugees (36 million displaced children around the world) or children with disabilities, 80 percent of whom aren’t in school, Tim Shriver, chair of the Special Olympics, told POLITICO.
With the U.N. predicting a global teacher shortage of around 70 million by 2030, so-called Socially Assistive Robots may be among the most viable ways to help millions develop and catch up with peers. But the U.N. Office of Innovation is also worried about “Generation AI” — officials say that national AI strategies, where they exist, aren’t designed with children in mind. That leaves the kids vulnerable to this tech revolution.
“This is not about a robot tutor, where teachers feel like competing against the robot; it’s almost like a Disney sidekick that plays games with you, as a peer. They're not confusing these robots with a dog or a person, they see it as its own kind of entity,” Breazeal said.
What works with children in need might also be leveraged for others: “Mental wellness is in crisis, globally,” she said. More from Ryan here.
LESSONS OF WAR
UKRAINE REDUX: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you could not have missed the dominance of the Ukraine war at this year’s U.N. General Assembly, leading leaders’ speeches throughout the week. But it is unclear if the appeals from Western countries for fence-sitters to take a stance on who really is to blame for the war had much impact.
All about the money; but let’s not forget the business side of geopolitical decisions. Jay Truesdale, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Russia and Ukraine, now CEO of Veracity Worldwide, noted that while there was a big pullout of corporates from Russia in the wake of the invasion, it was not across the board.
“Many of those companies that have remained are non-EU, non-U.S., non-Canadian. Those countries, they represent are a mirror of the world that was reflected in the U.N. General Assembly vote on March 2 — those states that took a strong position against Russia’s invasion also happened to be states whose multinationals headquartered in Europe and the United States themselves took a strong position.”
He says that of the 47 countries that either abstained or didn’t vote in the General Assembly vote back in March, many of them have corporate entities still operating in Russia.
DON’T EU FORGET ABOUT MED: Nasser Kamel, formerly an Egyptian ambassador to the U.K. and France, is at the U.N. promoting his group, the Union for the Mediterranean, and reminding Europeans not to forget about its neighbors down south, especially as it seeks more reliable allies than Moscow and Beijing.
Better together: Kamel said to address Europe’s energy crisis, there must be more investment in the “huge potential of renewables” that the greater Mediterranean region can offer as well as integrating energy grids.
“We are one of the world’s least integrated regions, and when it comes to energy, interconnection is almost nonexistent between the South and the North,” Kamel told our editor Emma Anderson, arguing focus on these issues should have come much sooner, before Russia’s war “squeezed” Europe.
GAFFE OF THE WEEK: South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol caught on mic swearing after meeting U.S. President Joe Biden at the Global Fund Conference.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Russia’s leadership must face trial … Russia’s leadership that is behind the crimes committed in Ukraine must be held responsible. This is why we must establish an international tribunal."
— Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, speaking at a ministerial meeting on the International Criminal Court.
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: “As cities emerge from occupation, we find reports of mass graves, we see the bodies of men with arms tied behind their backs … We cannot allow this to happen,”
— Amal Clooney at Cooperation for Accountability in Ukraine, a side event at UNGA.
PHOTO OF THE DAY: President Joe Biden departing lower Manhattan for Washington Thursday evening, h/t Doug Mills, New York Times.
NOPE: CNN senior correspondent Christiane Amanpour declined a previously arranged interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi — because the president demanded at the last minute that Amanpour wear a headscarf. The interview was set to take place in New York, and Amanpour has been interviewing Iranian presidents without a headscarf since 1995.
SPOTTED: At the (RED) Nightcap at Goals House, Bono, comedian Phoebe Robinson, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, ONE campaign chief Gayle Smith, PR supremo Matthew Freud and Peloton CEO John Foley.
Bono: “You don’t look like a banker, Brian. That shouldn’t be a compliment, but it is. And by the way, where you live should not decide whether you live.”
Phoebe Robinson: “It’s the first time I am headlining for Bono, so I’m updating my LinkedIn. And it’s the first time I’ve heard someone from Bank of America talk to me without mentioning my overdraft fee, so I am I just so thankful for that.”
THANKS TO: Clea Caulcutt, Esther Webber, Cristina Gonzalez, Nahal Toosi, our editors Emma Anderson, Ben Pauker and James Randerson and producer Hannah Farrow.
SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: D.C. Playbook | Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | ParisPlaybook| Ottawa Playbook| EU Confidential | D.C. Influence | EU Influence | London Influence | Digital Bridge | China Direct | Berlin Bulletin | Living Cities