Beijing Forum, 'Respect for Diversity and Work for Harmony and Prosperity for All'

Closing Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Beijing Forum Beijing, 9 November 2008

Distinguished representatives of the academic, research and NGO communities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and privilege to address the closing session of this Beijing Forum on “The Harmony of Civilizations and Prosperity for All – the Universal Value and Development Trend of Human Civilization”. I am honoured to be in the presence of such esteemed thinkers in this area of study.

Over the course of these three days, you have covered a wide spectrum of topics and delved deeply into philosophy, economics, religion, art, politics and history. I congratulate the Beijing Municipal Government and Peking University on this achievement, and on celebrating their fifth anniversary of promoting academic and cultural exchange through the Forum.

The setting could not be more fitting for this endeavour: in an ancient land where the cultural value of harmony has long taken pride of place, and at an illustrious university, with the longstanding motto of “inclusiveness and tolerance”.

The hard work by organizers and participants alike should be commended. The dialogue, cross-fertilization of ideas and collaboration that is fostered by the Beijing Forum makes an important contribution to global efforts to bring humankind closer together in pursuit of better lives for all.

In this respect for diversity, and hard work for harmony and prosperity for all, the Beijing Forum and the United Nations have much in common.

Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has served as a forum to bring States and other actors together to identify and pursue common ideals, including peace, tolerance, respect for human rights, justice, economic and social advancement, and environmental protection.

The Charter of the United Nations sets forth a bold vision of harmony and prosperity for all. And it provides a foundation for action to bring that vision to life, through international cooperation.

Sixty-three years later, the mission of the United Nations is far from complete. And new challenges have emerged that were not envisaged by its founding governments. Nevertheless, the United Nations – including its Member States, staff and partners – has touched billions of human lives and continues to do so. I could not be more proud to be a part of that indispensable institution and its work.

I would like to share some further reflections with you, organized around the three pillars of the United Nations’ work: peace and security, development and human rights. Let me proceed in reverse order.

Agreed through the United Nations in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies widely shared values and ambition.

The 58 Member States that made up the UN, at the time the Declaration was drafted, differed in their ideologies, political systems, and religious and cultural backgrounds. They also enjoyed different levels of socio-economic development. But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represented a common statement of goals and aspirations for the human condition and for the world community.

This year in December, we will celebrate the Declaration’s 60th anniversary. It, too, has yet to be fulfilled in its entirety. But we should be encouraged by the individuals the world over, including many gathered here – whose work is grounded in the Declaration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In our work for development, one of the greatest resources we have is the United Nations Development Agenda, produced over nearly two decades of UN conferences and summits on economic, social and environmental issues.

One of those UN conferences took place here in this city, in 1994, the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Each conference focused on a different dimension of development. Yet, the issues they addressed were inevitably inter-linked. Together, they generated a comprehensive vision of development – and an ambitious set of internationally agreed development goals, with time-bound targets and plans for implementation.

At the same time, the participatory process of the conferences and summits – engaging developed and developing countries, UN system and other international organizations, academia, civil society and the private sector – has been transformed. The process has produced a global partnership for development, now recognized as critical for advancing progress towards all the development goals.

The spirit of this partnership is captured in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, forged by world leaders in 2000. The signatories recommitted themselves to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and proclaimed a set of values, principles and objectives for the international agenda for the twenty-first century. It is proof again that, despite our differences, we can find common ground.

In the document, States agreed on the six fundamental values essential to international relations in the twenty-first century – freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility. These are the same values we have heard echoing in these halls.

But a common vision alone will not free the poor from the bonds of penury or feed the hungry or heal the sick or put the world on a more sustainable path to development. Consensus must be followed by implementation. And the Millennium Declaration also laid a new foundation for global action.

As you may know, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were derived from the Declaration, with the target date of 2015 for their fulfilment. The MDGs have spurred actors in every corner of the globe to undertake concrete activities to contribute to an international effort to halve poverty and hunger, promote education, achieve gender equality, improve health, protect the environment and cultivate the global partnership for development. By sharing the burden, we can meet our objectives.

Towards some targets, we have made great strides, such as the overarching goal to reduce poverty by half and in reaching universal primary education. For others, especially reducing child and maternal mortality, there is grave concern that we will not meet the goals in most countries.

We are now past the halfway point to 2015. The Secretary-General has urged the international community to show renewed energy and political will so that we may reach all targets in all countries. This is not a challenge for governments alone; the United Nations also welcomes civil society, foundations and the private sector becoming full partners in our efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to turn now to the third pillar of the United Nations’ work – peace and security. It includes not only peace-keeping and conflict resolution, but also a range of initiatives to promote intercultural interaction, understanding and tolerance.

In 2000, the UN mobilized a global movement for a culture of peace – an alliance of actors who reject violence and endeavour to prevent conflicts by tackling the root causes through dialogue and negotiation. This movement’s work lies at the heart of activities taking place during the 2001-2010 International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.

In 2001, we celebrated the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. And, in 2005, the Alliance of Civilizations was formed under the auspices of the UN. Both have helped to counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism, foster reconciliation and peace, and encourage international cooperation.

Since 2005, the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace – an open-ended consultative partnership of governments, the United Nations system and civil society – has also contributed to this work. The Forum provides a venue for open-ended deliberations on how interfaith dialogue and cooperation can help foster peaceful co-existence.

And co-exist we must. A recurring theme over the course of these three days has been humankind’s inter-connectedness. Conflict is but one force that spills over national borders. Through globalization, our destinies have become increasingly intertwined.

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or example, financial turmoil has grown from an American crisis to a global crisis.

The natural environment and human well-being have been threatened by decisions made within national borders that reverberate well beyond geographic boundaries.

One of the greatest threats that we must confront, together, is climate change.

I have just come from the Beijing Conference on Climate Change, organized by the Chinese Government and my UN Department, focused on technology. Through the development and deployment of clean and climate-friendly technologies, we possess a powerful, integrated approach to tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development.

To safeguard the standards of living of future generations while meeting current needs, it is imperative that all our actions be grounded in the principles of sustainable development, balancing the three pillars of economic growth, social development and environmental protection. To achieve this balance at the global level, a world-wide partnership is an absolute necessity.

The UN is, as ever, facilitating efforts to address some of the world’s greatest economic and social challenges. But it relies on the will and cooperation of its Members and partners for success.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The UN welcomes other vehicles to help foster regional and international understanding and cooperation.

It was a great moment of personal pride and joy to watch the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics held in Beijing.

While the world’s eyes were fixed on the athletes, we were reminded that we are “One World with One Dream”, each struggling to do our personal best and to rise to our full potential. If we all act together for the common good, there will be no limit to what we can achieve.

It was an unforgettable moment in history for China and the Chinese people, and it has left its mark on the country and on the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Without question, the United Nations is the most universal and legitimate forum through which world leaders can come together to set norms, agree policies and take joint action. I insist that – more than ever – the world needs the United Nations. And the United Nations needs the support of the world.

I thank the participants, the Beijing Municipal Government, Peking University and the Forum’s other partners for continuing to do their part, and for inviting the United Nations’ to participate in the meeting.

I congratulate you all on this productive and thought-provoking event. And I encourage you to continue in your endeavours to bring harmony and prosperity to all.

Thank you.

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