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A Global Alliance> Archive
UPDATED: November 5, 2007 NO. 45 NOVEMBER 8, 2007
Building a Better Planet

I need more time to familiarize myself with the internal operations [of the UN] and also the rules of the game. For those reasons I do feel quite big pressure.

What is the biggest difference between your present position and when you were a senior Chinese diplomat?

Well, the difference is that as a Chinese ambassador I worked for my own country. While taking into account the interests of others, my priority was to serve my own country. As a UN senior official, I'm here to serve all countries, the whole world. This is the major difference. As Chinese ambassador or Chinese diplomat, I comply with and implement policies of my government, but here as a UN civil servant I implement policies agreed upon by the member states of the UN.

What do you do if the interests of China and the UN conflict? How do you balance?

On the whole, China's foreign policy has been very reasonable and humane. In that sense it is very popular. So far, I have not come across any areas of so-called policy clashes with the UN. But in case there is clash, as a UN senior civil servant, I have no choice but to comply with what the UN has decided. Before I assumed my office I took an oath. It's a very serious matter, but I don't expect there will be any serious clashes.

Oftentimes, a change in one's job means a change in his/her style. Have you changed yours?

No. First, there is no need to change. We have more than 30,000 staff working at the UN headquarters. They come from different countries and each individual is different from the rest. They all have their own styles and I have mine. If we all have the same style, life will be very dull and uninteresting. But, don't mistake style for policy. What really matters is the policy. We are all expected to implement the same policy. On that issue, there is no difference.

So far my outspoken, straightforward, transparent and democratic style of management has been welcomed by my staff in my department.

You have expressed a willingness to bring the tenets of Chinese culture to the UN. What sort of attributes do you mean, and have you achieved any progress in this?

Well, there is no way to measure the progress. It's not something you have to do deliberately. I automatically brought with me the Chinese way of thinking, Chinese customs, Chinese traditions and Chinese culture.

For instance, at the staff meeting on September 11, I admitted publicly that I'm not an economist and I'm not an expert. I said when I say "I don't know," you may be surprised because the UN culture is that "I know. I can do anything and I know everything." But Chinese culture says: If you know, you say "I know;" and if you don't, you tell others "I don't know." That means you really know.

Also in China we have the saying: "Nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards." There should be disciplines. There should be rules. Without disciplines and rules there would be no order. This is typical Chinese culture.

Secretary General [Ban Ki-moon] uses a Confucius tenet--"xiushen, qijia, zhiguo and pingtianxia," which is a creed of the secretary general. Coming from an Asian country, he claims he also believes in Confucianism. He asked me to translate [the tenet] for him. I said, "Xiushen, in modern translation, is to be a gentleman; qijia is to be a good husband; zhiguo is to be a good prime minister; and pingtianxia is to be a good UN secretary general." This is my modern translation.

Then someone said to me that when Confucius was alive, he did not know there would be a United Nations. I said, "Confucius--because he is called Saint, a man with extreme wisdom--must have predicted there will be a United Nations, and therefore there will be a secretary general for the world body."

It's a joke. So, in this way, together with the secretary general, we have introduced Eastern culture into the UN family. They all feel the impact. People [in the UN] have different cultures, different backgrounds, which I think enriches the UN culture.

For years, you used to be involved in global arms control issues. Some Western countries have accused China of lacking transparency in its military spending and national defense programs. From your former experiences, can you comment on this issue?

I'm not responsible for, or in charge of this anymore. But, as a Chinese national who had been working in that field for many years, I would ask: What is the purpose of transparency? There is no such a thing as transparency for transparency's sake. Transparency is meant to build up confidence--mutual confidence.

First, [mutual] confidence building is to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid the outbreak of war or conflict. Security is the core of all disarmament or arms reduction and non-proliferation measures. Any disarmament measures including transparency should not compromise security.

Second, as far as transparency is concerned, there is no unified standard. That is to say different countries have different degrees of transparency. In the world, there are militarily strong countries and militarily weak countries. There are countries that are members of military alliances and countries that do not belong to any military alliance. The same measure of so-called transparency may have different impacts on, or military implications for, different countries or different groups of countries.

Third, we acknowledge the significance of the transparency. With improvement of the international climate--particularly the security situation with the enhancement of mutual understanding and trust between China, neighboring countries and big powers--and certainly with [overall] development of China, including its military defense capabilities, China will become more and more transparent. This is the trend. I don't have any doubt about it.

Transparency is always relative. It's not absolute. Even when you ask the most militarily powerful country, "Are you absolutely transparent?" I'm sure the answer will be "no," because it's impossible for any country to share all confidential information with others. For example, they cannot share advanced military technology with others.

Today, the world is relatively peaceful. Peace and development represent trend of today. I hope this trend will continue. That will enable China to be more and more transparent. But certainly, any practice of interference in the internal affairs of others will not help the transparency. That's my personal view.

(Wang Gangyi, Wang Yanjuan and Chen Wen

reporting from New York)

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