Delivering as One, a UN in China conversation presented by Resident Coordinator Siddharth Chatterjee: Episode 8 with Shahbaz Khan, Representative and Director of the UNESCO Office in Beijing
A podcast series that brings you the stories behind the representatives of the UN family in China
In the eighth episode of the UN in China podcast, UN Resident Coordinator in China Siddharth Chatterjee sits down with Shahbaz Khan, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Office in Beijing and UNESCO Representative to the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia and the Republic of Korea.
Prof. Khan, an Australian national, was born and raised in Jhelum, Pakistan. Growing up close to an important river of the subcontinent in a family with agricultural background with fond memories of times spent near water left an enduring influence on his future career. After training and working in Pakistan as a civil engineer, he continued his studies in the area of water management on scholarship to the University of Birmingham. He subsequently departed to take up further studies and work in Australia, notably as a Research Director at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).
During this time, Prof. Khan worked closely with farmers on irrigation systems in the Murray-Darling basin in the state of New South Wales, with the Murrumbidgee River selected by UNESCO as a world reference catchment area. Thus began his relationship with the UN system, later joining UNESCO initially as an expert, then as Chief at the Water and Sustainable Development Section in Paris, and subsequently as Director of the UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific in Jakarta. Prior to this, he first visited China in 1999 as part of CSIRO on invitation from Wuhan University. This visit sparked a renewed interest in China and began an over 20-year association with Chinese professors, scientists, and universities that would ultimately result in Prof. Khan joining the UNESCO Office in Beijing in March 2021.
“We have a very beautiful mandate…we are the humanistic, knowledge side of the United Nations,”
In this episode, Prof. Khan highlighted the nature of UNESCO’s engagement with relevant stakeholders since establishing its presence in China as part of the UN family in 1984. In the area of education, he discusses the importance of UNESCO’s work in Higher Education for Sustainable Development and collaborations with institutes such as Tsinghua University, in addition to work on Technical and Vocational Education and Training. In science, he raised UNESCO’s efforts with organizations such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences in areas such as ethics in artificial intelligence and big data, along with UNESCO’s promotion of biosphere reserves. On culture, he also notes China’s many years of rich history and culture, and the ongoing relevance of China’s 56 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List.
During the conversation, Prof. Khan also explains why UNESCO seeks to tackle barriers in areas such as digital inclusion for people in vulnerable groups, including people living in rural areas, and people with disabilities, the latter as seen in UNESCO’s chairing of the UN Theme Group on Disability. On intercultural understanding and youth development, he points to UNESCO’s partnerships with cities in China, as seen in the 2021 Nanjing Peace Forum, and collaborations with UNFPA and UNAIDS on comprehensive sexuality education-related activities in China.
Together with the Resident Coordinator, the two discuss challenges and opportunities in the years ahead, including the increasing impacts of climate change, demographic shifts and South-South Cooperation efforts, as well as UNESCO’s work in China to enhance resilience, leave no one behind and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as part of the UN system in China.
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Professor Shahbaz Khan is the Director of the UNESCO Office in Beijing and UNESCO Representative to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia, People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea.
Prof Khan joined UNESCO in 2008 at its Headquarters as Chief of the Water and Sustainable Development Section. He has worked in Australia, France, Indonesia and Pakistan in various research, consultancy and policy positions around hydrology and sustainable development. His work has been widely recognized e.g. 2019 China Friendship Award and Great Wall Friendship Award China 2017. Prof Khan holds a Hon Doctorate Environment and Development from the National University of Malaysia and Hon DSc from the University of Birmingham.
Siddharth Chatterjee took office as the United Nations Resident Coordinator in China on 16 January 2021 and is the designated representative of - and reports to - the UN Secretary-General. He presented his letter of credence to the President of China on 14 April 2021.
Mr. Chatterjee has more than 25 years of experience in international cooperation, sustainable development, humanitarian coordination and peace and security in the United Nations and the Red Cross movement. He has served in many fragile and war-torn countries all over the world.
A 3 times TEDx speaker, he is a regular opinion contributor on humanitarian and development issues for a range of journals which includes Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Huffington Post, Forbes, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Guardian and as of late has also published in mainstream Chinese journals.
Mr. Chatterjee holds a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton University in the United States of America.