Member States of the United Nations,
Friends and colleagues,
The United Nations in China is deeply honoured that you could find the time to be with us this afternoon in a session about UN reform implementation at country level and its centre-piece – the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (CF) which the UN in China has signed with the Government of China for the period 2021-2015.
Following on earlier conversations with many of you, today we wanted to honour a commitment we made, to give you a sense of how the United Nations Team in China plans to operationalise the Cooperation Framework, as part of broadening out our accountability and transparency to include you, our member states.
We know that for many of you, discussions on UN reform primarily take place with your missions in New York but today’s meeting is about UN reform implementation at country level – it is about how the UN in China is implementing and aligning to a reform agenda that was not just unprecedented in its ambition but also in the resounding support it obtained from member states. Some of what we mention today may be repetitive as we want to ensure we are having this conversation in as inclusive a manner as possible and some who are present today will not have been present in previous discussions so kindly bear with us.
The Cooperation Framework is the most important instrument for planning and implementation of the UN’s development activities at country level, in support of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is important that we underscore that the Cooperation Framework in any country must align to the country’s development priorities, usually reflected National Development Plans and/or Vision Documents. This is a requirement. It is an agreement between the UN in any country and the host government. It is therefore not a UN document or a country document but a negotiated, mutually accepted document between the principle partners reflecting also the UN’s programming principles and normative guidelines. It should therefore be read and viewed as such. It is then used to determine the UN development system’s contributions in the country and it shapes the configuration of UN assets required to deliver on it.
The document was signed between the Government and the UN in China in August and UN agencies have since been working to align their agency programmes and assets to deliver on the Cooperation Framework with an independent and re-invigorated Resident Coordinator’s office now freed from the responsibilities of also managing UNDP, to foster better cohesion and accountability for results across the UN system.
Today, we will share with you how we have re-organised ourselves to deliver differently under UN reform, particularly on the cross-cutting themes and our early thinking on joint or collective work that UN agencies are proposing under the CF from 2021. Perhaps an important reminder for our member states today is that this is all “work in progress”. China was among a handful of countries globally that were “early adopters” for the development of Cooperation Frameworks, utilising guidelines which have since been updated. The lessons learnt from the experience here are therefore not only for China but also for a host of other countries that will be going forward in the next phase.
Today’s meeting builds on an earlier meetings held on the 25th of August, followed by another meeting on the 23th of October as well as a host of bilateral meetings that have taken place with some of your embassies. You have been invited here today either because your Country sits on the board of several UN agencies or because of your interest in UN reform implementation, or both.
Shortly, you will hear a presentation on the Cooperation Framework, its main pillars of focus and the outcomes we anticipate. Building on that and as promised, you will also hear about how we have structured ourselves to deliver on it. We have organised the afternoon so that you can divide up into groups which are structured along the three result pillars of the Cooperation Framework as well as cross-cutting themes which include Women rights and Gender Equality, Disability Inclusion and Human rights or leaving no one behind.
The idea of the break-away group discussions is also about fulfilling a promise we made, which was to open up to you our early thinking on joint programmes aligned to the draft results matrix and to hear your views, remembering that the results matrix can only be fully concluded after the Government of China has issued its 14th five year plan after the “two sessions”. We did however have a strong basis on which to start this early thinking, given that the results matrix was reviewed by 30 ministries of the Government of China and informed by relevant sector partners.
Going into your groups, it is important that we address some of the questions and concerns that we have received so far, so that these provide a clear framework for your interactions in the group:
On sequencing and whether Country Programme Documents of individual UN agencies are (or will be aligned) to the Cooperation Framework, I wish to reiterate that this was the case for agencies that submitted their Country Programme Documents to their September Executive Board Meetings and will be the case for those yet to submit to their respective boards or organisations depending on different procedures across the UN system. Verification and confirmation of alignment is a requirement by both Government and the UN Resident Coordinator and for agencies that went to their boards in September, the CF had already been in development for over a year and was therefore fairly advanced when they started their Country Programme development in spring 2020.
On why Member States were not consulted before the CF was signed – we hear you on this point: our best intentions to do so were over-ridden by the fact the principle players in the CF signing were still negotiating the document (following a delay over the COVID-19 period) and while agreements were being reached on challenging issues, leaving very little time ahead of the September board meeting to convene consultations. Sharing a document which had not yet been agreed between the principle parties would have been ill-advised but the UN remained convinced that opportunities for dialogue would continue, given that the CF was only signed at outcome level, giving adequate scope for conversations such as the one we are having today and others to come. Do also remember that unlike other countries, no formal platforms existed in China to facilitate this Government-UN dialogue. It is our understanding that Government of China is in principle open to including Member States in the Joint Steering Committee, which will oversee implementation of the CF (although exact membership modalities are still to be worked out).
So the message is the door to continued dialogue is not closed: We very much welcome the opportunity to hear your views, particularly on where “the rubber meets the road” and on the development work that we expect to undertake for the benefit of our partners and the people they serve.
A few issues on content have also been raised - allow me to go through each of them:
1. Some have questioned the language that is used in the document and references to China’s development initiatives. This is not unusual in a Cooperation Framework of any country, least of all China’s, neither was it unusual in the pre-UN reform era. As I mentioned earlier, Cooperation Frameworks must align to a host country’s Development Plan(s) and National Vision documents (We do take on board the suggestion that has come from some member states that quotations should have been used and we are doing so with agency CPDs);
2. Member States have also asked questions and sought assurances about human rights and whether the human-rights based approach has under-pinned the document. Our view is that despite challenges in our negotiations on this issue, the UN upheld its “blue lines” and the UN Charter and was able to reach consensus in the document, recognising China’s differing position on Human Rights which is well known and remains a continued area of engagement beyond the CF document and at different levels of the UN. Vulnerable and marginalised groups (12 of them, including minorities) are clearly highlighted in the document as well as the fundamental principle of “leaving no one behind”; Important cross-cutting principles and themes on Gender Equality, and Disability inclusion are also included and more than just my telling you that they are, you will have opportunity in the break-away group to learn about actual programme delivery with clear results in the past as well as areas where we wish to make improvements in the future. No country gets it completely right on human rights, this is an area of continuous improvement. Suffice it to say that the Cooperation Framework gives UN agencies the space to continue engagement in this area and to keep the door for dialogue open;
3. The work of the UN with Chinese entities in partner countries has raised particular controversy, yet China’s development cooperation and investments as well as South-South Cooperation initiatives are growing world-wide particularly in the developing world, and it is considered a development partner by many countries, some of which are represented in this meeting today. This area of work is neither new to the UN in China nor elsewhere. The role of the UN as described in the Cooperation Framework is to inform and influence these projects and engage partners in China and in recipient countries with the purpose to facilitate alignment of these projects with attainment of SDGs and to ensure they meet international normative standards and best practice. We hope that some of the examples of programmes we provide today, some undertaken with the same partners who now raise questions, will allay concerns. We remain open to inputs on how we can do this work better to achieve mutual benefits and indeed contribute to global SDG attainment.
In closing, let me highlight that engaging with you, our member states in Beijing is a new way of working, both for the UN as well as for our government partners. We are searching for ways to embrace UN reform in its truest form, meaning that our development work needs to be nationally owned and in line with national development plans, while at the same time open, transparent and accountable to all our member states. I am certain that you will appreciate that this will sometimes be a difficult balancing so please do hear that we fully embrace this “new normal” and ask you to bear with us through any “teething” challenges we may experience.
So, we welcome your thoughts during the course of this afternoon to hear how we could do this better. Our hope is that we can get past the geo-political tensions which hover over the Cooperation Framework and utilise the 41 years of a trusted and highly productive relationship with the host Government to press ahead on reaching groups left behind. Our hope is that we can continue to address issues around inclusiveness and sustainability as China enters a new development phase and advances towards attainment of the 2030 goals. The views of Member States while important, must be balanced with the views of national partners, with whom we now need to focus on the kind of conversation we are having here as well as on implementation.
On behalf of the United Nations system and its 28 entities in China, thank you again for your support for the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs and for joining us today in what I expect will be a constructive discussion and one that solidifies the vision of our working more closely together.