Speech at the 16th East Asian Seminar on the UN System

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Agenda Item 4: Sustainable Development and Peace: Global Agenda and Regional Solution


Zhang Dan

Secretary-General of China Academic Network for United Nations Studies

It is an honor and pleasure for me to speak under this agenda item. The topic of this session is pretty broad, covering not only sustainable development, but also peace, not only global, but regional solution. I hope I can cover both these two themes.

The adoption of Sustainable Development Goals last year at the United Nation Summit was a historic moment in UN history and was of paramount importance. It transforms the global development landscape by replacing the Millennium Development Agenda with SDGs, changing the double-track approach to development issues with one omnibus document. This will reshape the global development paradigm and guide the global and regional effort in the next fifteen years.

Compared with MDGs, the SDGs have three distinct features. First, it puts more emphasis on development quality and effectiveness.  Second, it expands the roadmap to achieve development, mainstream development into global agenda. Third, it highlights common development, treating developed and developing countries equally.

Generally speaking, the 17 goals and 169 targets in the agenda are balanced, comprehensive, forward-looking, featuring all the three pillars of economic, social and environment aspects. The agenda is action-oriented and emphases continuity, the agreed principles on sustainable development. It honors country ownership and leadership and puts priority on poverty eradication, reflecting not only the desire and aspiration of developing countries, but also the universal nature of the implementation. 

Now how they can be effectively implemented is brought to the forefront of discussion. I want to share the following views.

1.  Effective national governance is the key to its implementation. Gov. has the main responsibility to deliver these goals and targets, by charting feasible and effective policies and priorities, mobilizing new and additional resources and responding to the special needs of vulnerable groups. There is no single effective policy that can suit the needs of all countries. For example, both in China and USA, people are debating about health care policies. I understand the goals of both governments are the same, which are to provide universal coverage and quality health care. But I don’t understand how they try to achieve that in the US. Not many Americans understand how we in China are trying to do that either, since it so much relates to different social systems and cultural traditions. What the Americans are talking about is “do we really want the gov. to take control of our health by designing the healthcare program? The answer is No, and we want to take control of our own health”. “The Chinese on the contrary would answer yes. We want the gov. to provide healthcare.” The privatization experiment of healthcare has encountered such big opposition and has failed in China. So, different countries have different solutions to the same problem. That is why China has incorporated the Agenda into its own development plans and projects and has aligned its implementation with the 13th five-year plan- the top level blueprint for national development.

Asian region has the best chance to succeed, but also faces grave challenges. Asian region shows great resilience to financial turbulence and external economic shocks at the time of Asian financial crisis in 1998 and during US financial crisis since 2008. The rapid increase of trade and investment within the sub-regions in the past decades has benefited countries in the region, including our three countries. Peace and stability in the past several decades also contribute to the economic growth of our region. The attainment of MDGs in the region thus records the best and most successful stories. While the economic ties increase and people exchanges boom, the problems in our region do not diminish. The misperceptions of neighbors and mistrust among our three countries have not been eliminated in the huge flows of trade, capital and people exchange. Why?

First, it seems that our three countries have embarked on different paths and approaches to security. While Japan and the Republic of Korea rely on military alliances with the US to secure their own security, China, on the contrary, pursues common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security approach, respecting and ensuring the security of each country, so as to safeguard regional peace and security. We believe that if one country’s security is maintained on the basis of the insecurity of another country, then no country’s security can be secured.

Second, we cannot deny that how we treat historical issues plays a big part on people’s sentiment towards each other. I believe that if the gov. of Japan wants to win the heart and forgiveness of the victimized countries and their people because of the Second World War, it has to face squarely on historical issues and sincerely repent and apologize.

Third, it is a pity that since the pivoting towards Asia policy of the US was introduced, the regional tension has not been reduced, but somehow flared up. If the policy is exercised at the cost of the peace and stability of the sub-region, it is not in the interests of any country in the region.

Now, the nuclear tests by the DPRK pose even greater challenges to the peace and security in our region, which requires more cooperation. We, as the civil society, should urge our governments to properly address their differences and take proactive actions to enhance mutual trust, rather the opposite, so as to create more positive atmosphere and to jointly work to seek solution to the nuclear crisis and to ensure peace is not jeopardized in our region.

Global partnership is crucial to the follow-up on SDGs.  Global partnership has always been the key to sustainable development. In the past, we have made great commitments to North-south cooperation, to improving global trade and investment regime, and to strengthening global economic governance, capacity-building , tax cooperation, debt sustainability, etc., including the Monterrey Consensus, and the most recently Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The SDGs try to revitalize partnership and means of implementation. But I am afraid what is genuinely needed is real action and more projects and work on the ground to make sure these commitments really deliver results.

I am heartened by the result of the recent concluded G20 Summit held in Hangzhou, which, as the premier forum for international economic cooperation, for the first time put development high on the G20 agenda, and committed to important cross-cutting actions related to multi-dimensional partnerships, supporting developing countries and improving skills and human capital. An action plan on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was formulated. An initiative on supporting industrialization in Africa and the least developed countries was also adopted to reduce the inequality and imbalance in global development and deliver the benefits of global growth to people of all countries.

There have never been enough actions on the ground to boost infrastructure, to create jobs, to transfer expertise, to promote trade flows and to support green growth. All of our three countries have comparative advantagea in these areas. There are a lot we could do jointly or separately. There are more common grounds we share in sustainable development than in other fields.  For example, we all invest a lot in south-east Asian countries, becoming the main traders with these countries. And under 10+3 framework, we all emphasize cooperation on financial security, trade and investment, agriculture and human resources development. We are all active parties to the negotiation of RCEP. We are all members of G20 and important players in global economic governance. And we can work more closely to boost growth and inclusive development by sharing our experience and expertise with other countries, either under the umbrella of north-south cooperation or south-south cooperation.

     Talking about our three countries, I think there is still great potential for three countries to expand cooperation on e-commerce and green growth. Statistics show that trade among us only accounts for approximately 20% of our combined volume of foreign trade, and mutual investment among us is less than 5% of our total overseas investment. We ought to urge our respective governments to speed up negotiations on FTA so as to achieve meaningful outcomes at the earliest possible time. 

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