Post-2015 discussions kick off in China

What do you really need to know about any international political process?  ‘What will China do’ is probably close to the top of the list.  This week in Beijing the very beginnings of an answer to that question started to be sketched out in relation to the post-2015 agenda, at a roundtable for Chinese think tanks and officials organised by UNDP.

I was there to give some background on the post-2015 discussions going on elsewhere. It was my first visit to China, and pretty overwhelming – but I’ll spare you the clichés about the crowds, the construction, the pollution and the food (amazing though it was), and focus on the substance.

The event illustrated very clearly indeed why it’s so important to get countries like China engaged in this agenda.  Although I spend probably too much of my life in meetings and events on post-2015, this one really was different.  Two things stood out.

First, the focus.  Instead of the usual emphasis on health or education, the biggest issue of the day was probably infrastructure, with much discussion of how countries can develop the effective road, rail, port and airport systems that underpin not just economic growth but also progress in health and education (as one participant put it, ‘what’s the point of having a health clinic if people can’t get to it because there’s no road’).  Given China’s focus on infrastructure both at home and in their development programmes, this isn’t, of course, surprising – but it did make for a very different kind of conversation.

Second, the instruments.  It really wasn’t about aid.  Even though in the UK and elsewhere we talk about going ‘beyond aid,’ it’s hard to do without getting into the rather vague territory of domestic policy making, and how and if global actions can or should actually influence these in any way at all. None of that at this round table.  The discussion was all about technology transfer, about knowledge, and where aid was discussed it was all about how it can be used to draw in private sector flows.

The discussion was mainly fairly general, but there were some specific ideas: using a post-2015 framework to drive regional infrastructure projects, or developing systems for the transfer of non-commercial intellectual property.  The effect was to give a sense of a very different type of framework, incentivising very different kinds of behaviour, to that which is implied by the usual post-2015 discussions.

How does this compare with other approaches to post-2015?  Some of the focus at this meeting overlapped strongly with what the three co-chairs of the UN SG’s High Level Panel on post-2015 have already said are their priorities: the focus on economic growth being the most obvious overlap with the Chinese emphasis on infrastructure.  But the Chinese won’t, I’m guessing from their reaction to the idea of putting ‘governance’ on the post-2015 agenda, be that impressed by the co-chairs’ attention to the role of ‘effective government’ (an idea whose definition is very much in the eye of the beholder), and even less so by ideas on ‘open societies’.

My conclusions?  Getting China, and probably Brazil, India and South Africa too, into the post-2015 conversation is absolutely fundamental.  It will mean a very different conversation, and a genuinely new global approach to development.  Traditional development types in Europe and the USA will find some of that uncomfortable.  But it will certainly be interesting.

Blog by Dr. Claire Melamed, Head of Growth, Poverty and Inequality at ODI.

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