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Kofi Annan exchanges ideas with scholars at Peking University

APR . 23 2015

Peking University, April 21, 2015: On April 21, 2015, Kofi Annan, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, visited Peking University to speak with scholars and students about global issues in a new era.

He introduces himself by neither his current title nor his former one, but rather with a story about being mistaken for Morgan Freeman while on vacation.

"That teaches you to walk around thinking everybody knows you,” he says, and with that, the ice in the room is broken.

Chair Annan visited Peking University on April 21, 2015, accompanied by Senior Advisor of the Kofi Annan Foundation Lamin Sise. They were received by PKU Executive Vice President and PUHSC Executive Vice President Ke Yang at Linhuxuan, and discussed issues on public health as well as health education.

Chair Annan pointed out that the health issue is a global one. He raised the issue of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and emphasized that international cooperation is the key to curb further deterioration of the situation. Executive Vice President Ke informed Chair Annan that several specialists in hospitals affiliated to PKU had gone to Africa to help in the fight against Ebola, and pointed out the role of PKU in leading research on public health, as well as improving the national health system.

Furthermore, when Executive Vice President Ke raised the subject of traditional medicine, Annan responded that there are also many sources of undocumented traditional medicine in Africa. He believed that China and Africa could learn much from each other in this area.

After the reception, a discussion took place in the Eastern conference room of Linhuxuan. Distinguished professors from many different departments were present, as well as a collection of student representatives from different backgrounds. Professor Yuan Ming from the School of International Studies hosted the meeting.

Chair Annan emphasized the importance of change and taking action. He shared his experiences as a young man in Ghana, explaining that “You saw change around you… and every time you saw it you grew convinced that change is possible.” He shared that sometimes “You put forth an idea and [others] tell you, ‘this won’t [work.]’ It’s never been done.” But it is just as important to remember, “You never know what you can get done.”

The importance of international cooperation was also raised. In an era where crises diffuse across borders and no country is powerful enough to tackle everything on its own, collaborative efforts among countries to maintain stability are essential. “I do not believe the leaders in the region can [bring stability] alone,” Chair Annan said. It is much more effective and beneficial to “form a common group with a common cause,” working towards a common goal.

The topics of issues discussed covered a wide range of subjects, from economic development to public health security and environmentalism. “China is ready to play its role in the world,” Chair Annan agreed. The question remaining is how.

In the area of health security, Professor Wang Peiyu specifically discussed the threats posed by infectious diseases, and cited the fact that outbreaks of SARS and Ebola have placed health security at the top of government agendas. Mr. Annan shared that sporadic centers for disease control (CDC) are not enough to combat the diseases, and we should build such centers in all the regions. He also recalled his own experience in helping to bring about a decrease in the medication costs of AIDS drugs for Africa and other poor regions. That reduction was brought by the concerted efforts of multinational pharmaceutical companies and governments—a real example of how such collaborations make an impact on the world.

Professor Lü Zhi, a leading conservation biologist, shared her own views on environmental policies. She believed that mere consensus of needing environmental reform was not enough, and that environmental conventions needed stronger incentives as well as stronger methods of enforcement in order to bring about widespread effects. Mr. Annan agreed with her, and emphasized the importance of involving the public in environmental reform. “They have power,” he states, and even when that power is not always realized, it is always there.

When asked about his point of view over the upsurge of ISIS and Syrian issues, Chair Annan expressed that he considered the nature of such conflicts to be different from the past, shown by an increase in decentralized violence and in mass revolutions. Furthermore, approaching extremists is different from approaching a structured government, and the delicate transition between military occupation and state power is also difficult to balance. If you cannot defeat them, and you cannot exterminate them, then what can you do?— Again, Chair Annan calls upon the combined efforts of international countries to try to solve these problems.

Regarding China, Chair Annan expressed that he sees China as ready to step onto the international stage. For a while, China may have held back, but now it is ready to re-enter global affairs as an important player. He also expressed his belief that China and Africa would hold good relations, and continue to help each other.

Chair Annan further explained that countries should embrace the future together, bearing the common interests of people from all parts of the world. He wished for the countries to actively support the UN’s decision-making and deal with rising issues as a collective body, as well as to complete the reform of the UN and realize the Millennium Development Goals. He also welcomed the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and considered it to be of great help to Africa, to help reform the infrastructure and facilities that had once impeded Africa’s development.

Student representatives also posed their own questions to Chairman Annan, and received very detailed responses. Chairman Annan expressed his great hopes in the young adults, and encouraged them to actively engage in the world around them, as part of a new generation bringing more change and reform.

Chair Annan is scheduled to hold a speech open to a wider assembly of students on April 22, 2015. More PKU students will be able to come and hear about his views and ideas, to learn to broaden their perspectives and explore reform in a changing society.

There is power in the individual, and the future is full of possibility. Chair Annan encourages students to become involved in the world around them.  You are responsible for the future you want to see, he teaches us. "You are never too young to lead."

 

Reported by: FAN Wei, LI Yike, XU Karen

Edited by: ZHANG Jiang