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Jun 01 2013
An Emerging Driving Actor: China and Post-2015 Debate
Post MDGs,   SDGs,   China,   Global   Development   Agenda  
With only less than 1000 days for implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) left, the debate about post-2015 global development agenda now is gradually heating, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that proposed by Colombia and Guatemala and then partially accepted by the Rio 20 summit as the most prominent proposal. It’s important to single out two significant developments of this round debate, namely the growing roles of emerging powers and more balanced views on development of both developing and developed countries. As the most important emerging power, China should and will have a driving role in the building of post-2015 global development agenda.
With only less than 1000 days for implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) left, the debate about post-2015 global development agenda now is gradually heating, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that proposed by Colombia and Guatemala and then partially accepted by the Rio 20 summit as the most prominent proposal. It’s important to single out two significant developments of this round debate, namely the growing roles of emerging powers and more balanced views on development of both developing and developed countries. As the most important emerging power, China should and will have a driving role in the building of post-2015 global development agenda.

I. Relevance of MDGs/SDGs to China

Both MDGs and SDGs have significant relevance for China, domestically and internationally.

Domestically, MDGs and SDGs are coincident with China’s long-term domestic development plans. In terms of MDGs, China committed to realizing those goals under its specific conditions. Since 1980, China has formulated its development goals and indicators, which are aimed at achieving a “Xiaokang society” (a moderately prosperous society) by 2020. In 2002 the Chinese Government made further advances to its policy of building up a Xiaokang society in an all-inclusive way. While not totally the same, there are a lot of overlaps between the vision of Xiaokang society and MDGs. In 2007 the Government initiated new approaches for comprehensively building up such a society, whilst integrating the MDGs into the process. It proposed the following strategies:

1. Persistence in expanding domestic demand;

2. Persistence in promoting strategic adjustments to the economic structure;

3. Persistence in resource conservation and environmental protection as basic state Policies;

4. Persistence in addressing climate change under the framework of sustainable Development;

5. Persistence in the balanced and coordinated development of urban and rural areas and regions;

6. Persistence in implementing the strategy of developing the country through science and education.[1]

It’s important to note that with China’s development, the Chinese government gradually realized that only GDP growth is not enough, China needs a more balanced and comprehensive and environment-friendly development. Based on such a cognitive shift, China has been earnestly following the scientific outlook on development that features comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development and puts people first, and has been promoting all-round progress in economy, political affairs, society, culture and eco-environment. Such a new orientation is embodied in the newly established Twelve Five-Year Plan for National Economy and Social Development (2011-2015), which echoed with the SDGs and “GDP ” advocated by the UN because both represent a “people’s agenda” and focus on the kind of development that makes a visible, measurable difference in the lives of people.

Internationally, MDGs and SDGs have great relevance to China’s foreign policy as well. On the one hand, to strengthen partnerships with developing world and south-south cooperation is one of top priorities of China’s foreign policy. China always claims that it belongs to the developing world and tries to input substantial contents to south-south cooperation, with the establishment of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and then fast development of China-Africa economic relations as most visible example. It’s prominent that China-Africa trade increased nearly 20 times from USD 10 billion in 2000 to USD 200 billion in 2012. On the other hand, with China’s rising, international suspicions about China’s future strategic orientation are growing and then various arguments for hedging China emerging, with the America’s rebalance strategy in Asia-Pacific as the most recent effort. Under such pressures, it’s better for China to promote relations with developing world as a way of balancing against. Here the relevance of MDGs/SDGs emerging, with closer cooperation and coordination between China and developing world through MDGs/SDGs, China can build a broader and deeper strategic partnership with developing world and gain stronger support from the rest of the South.

II. Post-2015 Debate within China

With the approaching of post-2015 era, the debate on post-2015 global development agenda is gradually getting more and more attentions from Chinese officials, scholars, and civil society. The discussions now are happening at following three levels simultaneously.

The first level is the Chinese governmental level which of greatest importance for post-2105 agenda debate given the political and academic system of China. Chinese government started this discussion at the 5th Ministerial Conference of FOCAC in July 2012. Based on an optimistic view towards African rising, China called for policy consistency in terms of the forging of post-MDG global development consensus. Both documents of the 5th FOCAC Ministerial Conference, the Beijing Declaration and Action Plan, call for the international community, under the leading role of the UN, to take seriously the inefficient implementation in the field of sustainable development, show the political will and commitment to build consensus, and reach agreement on the implementation plan of the post-MDG framework of sustainable development.[2]

Then 4 months later, China made public its guideline on post-2015 agenda for the first time. At the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress held in November 2012, Former President Hu Jintao declared that China will cooperate and coordinate with international community to “establish a new type of global development partnership that is more equitable and balanced”.[3] While full of ambiguities, this short declaration will guild the future Chinese policy and discussion on post-2015 agenda due to the greatest importance of this national gathering.

At the Fifth BRICS Summit held in Durban, South Africa in March 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping delivered a speech “Work Hand in Hand for Common Development” that called for BRICS members to “jointly participate in the setting of international development agenda, fully harness the productivity and material resources accumulated in the past, fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals, narrow the North-South gap in development, and make global development more balanced”, thus “should vigorously promote the building of a global development partnership and strive for the common prosperity of all countries”.[4] Even still lack of clarification of exact meaning of new type of global development partnership, President Xi shows willingness of proactively participate into post-2015 agenda setting through joint efforts with Africa.

The second level is the international level that is closely related to the first level. China has organized two rounds of consultation with UNDP on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The first was occurred on December 5, 2012 in Kunming, Yunnan Province, which identified six key focus areas: poverty reduction and inclusive growth, environmental and green development policy, global health, women and children, education and international co-operation. Then the second consultation was held on March 11, 2013, based on the six key focus areas proposed by the first round of consultation.[5]

At the same time, China tried to build consensus with other developing countries in terms of post-2015 global development agenda. The BRICS Durban Summit Declaration claims that,

We stress that the development agenda beyond 2015 should build on the MDG framework, keeping the focus on poverty eradication and human development, while addressing emerging challenges of development taking into consideration individual national circumstances of developing countries. In this regard the critical issue of the mobilization of means of implementation in assisting developing countries needs to be an overarching goal. It is important to ensure that any discussion on the UN development agenda, including the "Post 2015 Development Agenda" is an inclusive and transparent inter-Governmental process under a UN-wide process which is universal and broad based.

We welcome the establishment of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in line with the Rio 20 Outcome Document which reaffirmed the Rio Principles of Sustainable Development as the basis for addressing new and emerging challenges. We are fully committed to a coordinated inter-governmental process for the elaboration of the UN development agenda.[6]

Last but not least, the third level is the academic level. The discussion about post-2015 agenda started just after the conclusion of 2010 UN MDGs Summit with Beijing, Shanghai, and Xiamen as the most significant academic centers. While scholars from Beijing attend a lot of governmental discussions, scholars from Shanghai and Xiamen voice more by organizing or attending various academic conferences. For example, in January 2013, the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) and German Development Institute (DIE) cosponsored the International Conference on the “International Development Cooperation after 2015: Perspectives from the Europe and Emerging Economies”, experts from China, Germany, South Africa, India, Mexico, Brazil and United Nation participated and discussed on post-2015 international cooperation.[7] And the Journal Global Review published by SIIS also organized theme discussions in the Spring issue of 2013 (English version) and the 3rd issue of 2013 (Chinese version), published 6 papers in total.[8]

However, it’s important to note that the discussion is just at the very beginning with few prominent thinkers and scholars participated, few research papers published, few reports written, and relatively low priority attached to it at the governmental level. The main reason lies in the fast rising of China that makes Chinese has few time to think about longer-term issues but to address the more urgent and shorter-term ones.

III. SDGs and China’s Role

The debates in China have proposed three main options for post-2015 global development agenda, including: MDGs version 1.1 or more of the same, completely new design or something a bit more radical, and MDGs version 2.0 or combine the MDGs with something new.[9] Indeed, there are reasons for maintaining the MDGs, for example, no enough time to formulate an entirely new set of targets, needs for continuity of global development themes, and the remaining relevance of MDGs even after 2015, just name a few. Meanwhile, it’s reasonable to emphasize some new goals as well due to the changing context since the adopting of MDGs. Thus, a prevailing view is that we should streamline the goal system of international development, by maintaining the core goals of MDGs and adding some new urgent key goals in. The proposed SDGs is one of such kind of goal system.

China welcomes the setting of SDGs because of its universality. For China, the SDGs is universal especially when compares to MDGs that only targets to developing countries. Under the background of global financial and economic crisis, and the different growth paces in different regions and countries, there is a new development that the categorization of first world and third world is losing of persuasiveness. With rising number of the poor, the developed world also needs to address its internal underdevelopment issues. But more importantly, by adopting SDGs, there is a potential of avoiding the philosophy of development ladder. Before SDGs created, all efforts on international development based on such an assumption that the more developed world has the ethical advantages to “teach” the less developed world how to develop. With a more equal and balanced view, SDGs for the first time makes all countries on the same horizon.

However, for China, such a universal mission does not mean that the more developed world can escape its obligations of supporting the less developed world, especially in terms of development experience sharing, skills or technical transferring, and funding supporting. China advocates that the SDGs, as an outcome of the Rio 20 follow-ups, should be guided by the Rio principles, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in particular. The goals should be universal, which apply to all countries and provide countries with references and suggestions for sustainable development. At the same time, the goals should respect the differences of countries in national conditions and development stage so as to ensure the right to development and policy space of all countries.

China has set its own sustainable development goals as stated above. However, as to build new type of global development partnership, China argues that, as potential post-2015 global development agenda, the SDGs should be based on the MDGs and refer to the priority areas defined by the Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Action and Rio 20 Outcome Document when identifying its own priorities, so as to ensure balance of the three pillars of sustainable development. At the same time, it is important to focus on the theme of sustainable development when selecting priority areas for the SDGs and avoid taking in areas that deviate from the main topic of development.[10] As Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the UN H. E. WU Hongbo stated, the future SDGs will build on the MDGs and accelerate the progress already achieved, the MDGs are the bedrocks, the foundations for SDGs, ensuring that a world free from poverty is achievable in our lifetimes, and sustainable for all generations to come.[11]

Source of documents:Welt Sichten

more details:

[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, United Nations System in China, China’s Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, 2010 Report, Beijing, 2010, pp. 5-6.
[2] Beijing Declaration of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, July 23, 2012,; Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015), Beijing, July 23, 2012,
[3] Hu Jingtao, Firmly March on the Path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive to Complete the Building of a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects, Report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China on November 8, 2012.
[4] “Work Hand in Hand for Common Development,” Keynote Speech by H.E. Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China at the Fifth BRICS Leaders Meeting, Durban, 27 March 2013.
[5] “2nd National Consultation on the Post-2015 Development Agenda Held in Beijing,” UNDP, March 11, 2013,
[6] Fifth BRICS Summit, BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialisation, eThekwini Declaration, Durban, March 27, 2013,
[7] SIIS holds the International Conference on the ‘International Development Cooperation after 2015: Perspectives from the Europe and Emerging Economies’,” SIIS, January 14, 2013, /shgjwt201512107417/en/News_show_en.aspx?id=1494.
[8] All papers can be downloaded through SIIS website /shgjwt201512107417/en/. The content of two versions of this journal are different to a great extent.
[9] Sven Grimm and Zhang Chun, “South-South Cooperation and the Millennium Development Goals: Preparing for a post-2015 setting,” Background Paper, Post-2015: Global Action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future, European Report on Development 2013, pp. 25-27.
[10] “Statement by Ambassador Wang Min at the First Meeting of the Sustainable Development Goals Open Working Group,” Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, March 14, 2013,
[11] Wu Hongbo, “International Cooperation after 2015: Perspective from the UN,” Global Review, Spring 2013, p. 31.