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Worlds Apart at UN

The leaders of key Asia-Pacific regional powers have taken the podium at the United Nations general assembly. NHK WORLD's Miki Ebara reported from New York after the first day of general debate drew to a close.

The presidents of the US, China and Russia share a view that the UN has served the common good these last 70 years. But their opinions on the current global situation are far from harmonious...in fact, they are full of distrust.

US President Barack Obama warned of what he called "dangerous currents pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world". He criticized Russia over its takeover of Crimea and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

"We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That's the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia," Obama said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was ready with counter-arguments. He went on to claim armed extremists such as the Islamic State group grew in the power-vacuum that US-led military operations created in countries like Iraq and Syria.

"And now the ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called 'moderate' Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries. First, they are armed and trained, and then they defect to the Islamic State," said Putin.

Obama also pointed to the South China Sea, another area of tension, where China claims most of the sea as its territory. "In the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there," he said. "We have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force."

Chinese President Xi Jinping didn't respond immediately, but he did indirectly criticize powerful nations like the US. "The future of the world must be shaped by all countries - all countries are equals - the big strong and the rich should not bully the small weak and poor," said Xi.

The Chinese leader said his nation was not pursuing a sphere of influence. He also announced $100 million in military assistance for African nations.

South Korea's President Park Geun-hye spoke about concerns over Japan's new security legislation that expands the role of its Self-Defense Forces abroad. "Japan's recently passed defense and security legislation should be implemented transparently and in a way that is conducive to friendly relations among regional countries and to peace and stability in the region," she said.

The difficult atmosphere followed more positive discussions in the leadup to the general assembly. Delegates were upbeat about an agreement reached during the three-day summit on sustainable development that ended on Sunday.

But when it comes to issues that threaten peace and security, the world seems sharply divided. Obama ended his speech with this: "History is littered with the failures of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right. But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership: leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity."

It remains to be seen if that kind of leadership can be offered in the near future. The general assembly continues throughout the week, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

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