China and the West should cooperate as world faces ‘interlocking crisis’, UN official says


Public health is an area where Beijing and the West should be collaborating as the world faces an “interlocking crisis”, according to the United Nations’ top representative in China.

Siddharth Chatterjee said in an interview in Hong Kong that Covid-19 “should have been an important reminder”.

“It’s also been a great teacher: just one microscopic disease upended the global economies, upended global health systems,” he said.

The UN’s top representative in China said Covid-19 “should have been an important reminder” and called for investment in public health systems worldwide. Photo: Chinatopix via AP

“Let’s invest in public health. Let’s invest not just in China’s public health, but the public health systems across the world, because a healthy population will lead to future prosperity.”

Chatterjee, who has been the UN’s resident coordinator in China since 2021, said the world was seeing situations – ranging from health to climate, inequality and conflicts – that would take global efforts to address.

“What we are confronted with today is an interlocking crisis of proportions we’ve never seen before,” he said.

And despite rising geopolitical tensions, he said there was room for cooperation between China and the United States, as well as with other Western nations.

“If you go back during the period of the Cold War, the world still collaborated and came up with the vaccine to end smallpox. And that’s how smallpox was defeated,” Chatterjee said.

“Today we have incredible opportunities for similar collaboration to happen, between China, Russia, the US, the UK, Germany and probably India, for vaccines that could end future pandemics – if our scientists were to come together and collaborate.”

Chatterjee, who has held various positions around the world since he joined the UN in 1997, said there had been cooperation to fight global warming since last year’s UN climate conference in Egypt.

“I see potential synergies already happening. There’s a lot of conversations.”


US and China’s top climate officials hold talks as rival powers seek to ease tensions

US and China’s top climate officials hold talks as rival powers seek to ease tensions

He expected there would be more chances for China and the US to work together on climate change ahead of this year’s talks, known as COP28, to be held in Dubai next month.

“Most recently, the deepened engagement which has been happening between [John] Kerry and Xie [Zhenhua] … I see incredible opportunities,” he said, referring to the top American and Chinese climate envoys.

Their talks in November last year marked the resumption of such exchanges between Beijing and Washington that had been halted for months because of strained ties.

Officials from the two powers have sought to re-engage in recent months and ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco in November. Beijing has not confirmed if President Xi Jinping will attend the summit, where he could meet his US counterpart Joe Biden.
Chatterjee also saw a role for China in mediating conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, through multilateral platforms like the United Nations.
“If [China] could resolve a complex, sometimes being considered as intractable, relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia … I wouldn’t put anything as impossible,” he said, referring to a pact brokered by Beijing to restore ties between Tehran and Riyadh in March.

“The fact that these two countries are opening embassies in each other’s countries is a sign of hope. So that is why I’m filled with a view of optimism that anything is possible – and I see China’s leadership there.

“This was unthinkable in many ways, and it inspires hope. So I see China in the United Nations system, as a major leader, as a major country, as a major voice in the space of multilateral and diplomacy playing a crucial role as we are advancing towards the 2030 Agenda,” Chatterjee said.

The 2030 Agenda is a set of sustainable development goals set out by the UN that includes eliminating hunger and poverty, improving health and fighting climate change.


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