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A Decade's Dialogue
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shares his vision for global issues
 NO. 28 JULY 14, 2016

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 7 (XINHUA)

Editor's Note: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited China on July 6-10, his 10th trip to the country since assuming office on January 1, 2007. Known for his unwavering determination to bring nations together, Ban has always taken a hands-on approach to the thorniest issues. His tenure ends this year after leading the UN for a decade.

During the Beijing leg of Ban's five-day visit, Beijing Review President Li Yafang and reporter Liu Yunyun sat down with the secretary general to talk about his experience and his vision for the world. An edited excerpt of the interview follows:

Beijing Review: We interviewed you nine years ago, when you first took up the post of UN secretary general. And this is your last year in office. How have you felt heading the UN? Is it hard to satisfy everyone?

Ban Ki-moon: One of my predecessors, Trygve [Lie], once said it is the most impossible job on Earth. During the last one decade, the situation has dramatically changed. There were so many crises, like the international financial crisis. There is [also] a lot of terrorism and extremism spreading like cancer.

At the same time, world leaders have shown great leadership and commitment for a better world, for tomorrow, for all the people around the world. That was why last year they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 17 goals, in September, and the Paris Climate Change Agreement in December.

In these two visions, President Xi Jinping and his government have made great contributions, assuming leadership and a championing role. I think the world is going toward the right direction. But even so, we still live in a world of perils and challenges.

I have devoted my entire time and energy to delivering what has been mandated to me by the people. But unfortunately, I may not be able to finish everything. But I feel proud that good frameworks have been established for these two visions to be implemented.

The Paris Climate Change Conference has been fruitful. What role does the UN play in promoting awareness of climate change? It must have been an arduous process to bring all countries together and put them on the same page.

Video: Ban Ki-moon on Climate Change

Since 2007, from day one, I put climate change at the top of the global agenda. At that time, the negotiation had not been making any progress. It was very difficult. Most world leaders didn't know what climate change was.

To make the concept easily understood, I visited almost all the places around the world where I could see for myself the impact of climate change. I visited Antarctica; I went to the North Pole and the Amazon River Basin, the lung of the world, where rampant deforestation was taking place.

I sent alarm bells to the world that climate change was happening much faster than expected. Now, slowly and surely, world leaders have got the message. That is why we were able to have this climate change agreement.

I highly commend the strong commitment of China, led by President Xi, who worked together with President [Barack] Obama of the United States. I think the political commitment of the two presidents really turned the tide, together with me raising my voice for the importance and urgency of [addressing] climate change.

Now we must make sure that the agreement enters into force as soon as possible. We have a firm commitment from President Xi and also President Obama. We will make sure that this agreement enters into force by the end of this year. President Xi has already declared that China will ratify it before he convenes the G20 Summit in Hangzhou. It is great news.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has an exclusive interview with Beijing Review  in Beijing on July 7 (WANG XIANG/BEIJING REVIEW)

Does the UN have a working plan for the refugee crisis in Europe? What are the root causes of the crisis?

Video: Ban Ki-moon on the Refugee Crisis

The massive flow of migrants and refugees is one of the most challenging issues. There are many reasons why these people are fleeing their homes: because of violent crises here and there, particularly in Syria.

Six years of conflict have driven 4.5 million people out of Syria. Then there are 12 million inside Syria who have been affected. Almost 60 percent of Syrians have been affected directly.

And, there are many people fleeing from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Libya and many other areas. So [the refugee crisis] has become one of the top crises. I've been urging EU leaders that this is not a crisis of [a certain] number of people, it is a crisis of global solidarity. If you show global solidarity and compassionate leadership, we can handle this matter.

We are going to have a summit meeting on September 19 at the UN, and I have asked the Chinese leadership to participate in this meeting at the highest possible level.

President Obama and I are going to have a very important role to play. The General Assembly will have a special session on migration and refugees on September 19. President Obama is going to have another summit meeting on September 20.

So with these meetings, we hope we can agree on a global compact based on shared responsibility. It is important because countries or [even] groups of countries can't handle this matter singly. It should be handled with global commitment.

With the UK voting to leave the EU and the extraordinary support of Donald Trump in the United States, do you think the world is going toward de-globalization?

There are some concerns around the world that some politicians are resorting to so-called populism. The leaders should have a very shrewd and objective judgment of the situation, rather than appealing to populism or making negative rhetoric.

Whatever grievances and differences they have, they should show flexibility and patience and try to resolve all issues through dialogue in a peaceful way. That is the best way to address and prevent conflicts.

I sincerely hope that while we are going through a very difficult process, we can count on the leaders and their wise decisions and judgment in leading their countries. That will really help this world and the UN in managing the current situation.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gives an exclusive interview to Beijing Review in Beijing on July 7(WANG XIANG/BEIJING REVIEW) 

Gender equality has always been one of your or the UN's top priorities. There are very promising female candidates who could be the next UN secretary general. In your eyes, what attributes does the role require?

Gender empowerment is among my top priorities. When I became secretary general, I started many kinds of initiatives.

Empowerment of women is important, and I've been reaching out to almost all government leaders, urging them to appoint as many women as possible in decision-making positions.

Another [issue] is how to protect women's rights and dignity, how to protect them from human rights abuse and violence. So in 2008, I established UNiTE to End Violence Against Women. We have another campaign, HeForShe [where men and boys act as agents of change for gender equality]. All these initiatives have got huge support.

For the first time in UN history, I started a very powerful entity called UN Women, which has consolidated the UN's support for gender equality and [combating] violence against women.

I'm very much encouraged that there is a heightened [call] that my successor should be selected from able and dedicated women. Of course, the selection of secretary general is in the hands of member states, and I take an impartial position. But on many occasions, in many cases and in many areas, the best candidates are women. So I hope it will be the same this time.

Now more than 40 percent of UN staff at senior levels are women. There are more women in the lower levels. I wanted to change, first of all, my home. [And] I have shown [them], look, we lead by example, please follow this example.

You once said your life was like a clock. Everything's around the clock. What are you going to do after leaving the UN, after 46 years of a diplomatic career?

Video: Ban Ki-moon on Plans after Leaving UN

I really have to think ...

I will have completed 46 years in public service—36 years in the Republic of Korea and 10 years as the UN secretary general—without any break. So I need some rest, first of all.

Then I [want to] have some time with my grandchildren. Life with your grandchildren is very different from life with your children. It really makes me much more inspired, interested and happy.

Then I will think what I should do.

Scan the QR Code to watch video on the article

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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