Nov 21, 2019 - China

“Responsibility as a goal, friendship as a means”. That is how Mr. Wim van de Donk, King’s Commissioner for the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant characterised their partnership with the Chinese province of Jiangsu. It also applies to the partnership between the Dutch city of Oss and the city of Taizhou (in Jiangsu province). I was part of the delegation of Oss, which in turn was part of a Noord-Brabant delegation that visited Jiangsu from 28 October -  1 November to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Jiangsu – Noord-Brabant partnership. It was a fascinating visit.

VNG International supports municipalities in connecting their policies with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The cities of Oss and Taizhou had decided to renew their Letter of Intent and connect it to the SDGs. I gladly accepted the invitation by Mayor Wobine Buijs, a frontrunner in embracing the SDGs, to join the Oss delegation, curious to learn more about how the SDGs can provide added value to decentralised cooperation, and how the Oss-Taizhou partnership could serve as an example.

A huge difference with my first visit to China, 17 years ago, is that the damaging side-effects of the unparalleled vast economic growth are now widely and explicitly recognised. One of our hosts said that the focus is shifting from quantity to quality, another person referred to the balance between ‘high tech and nature’; and someone else explained that since there is no more fear for hunger in China, more attention must now be given to food safety. International cooperation to support that process was highly appreciated.

Based on national policies, incorporating the SDGs, Chinese provinces assign targets to the municipalities, which they can realise each in their own way. From the various approaches chosen, the most successful ones are selected to be applied at a larger scale. And with good results: air quality, water quality, recycling of materials, in all fields substantive progress is made.

Many of the Dutch officials showed fascination for the speed with which change is being realised. Of course there is also a shadow side to this speed, but it allows for visible progress, whereas the search for consensus in Dutch politics often leads to compromises or postponement of real measures.

There is a perfect basis for continued exchange. Because everybody understands that water quality, air quality, food security and safety, energy and the scarcity of natural resources, migration and the changing composition of the population, as well as the implications of all this for a.o. care and inclusiveness, are global challenges that require global goals and worldwide cooperation.

If it is up to Mayor Wobine Buijs, and I support her in that, not only the partnership Oss-Taizhou, but also the other Dutch-Chinese partnerships will make more use of the SDGs as a reference for their partnerships. Also for those with a strong focus on economic cooperation, using the SDGs as a reference has added value, as is expressed in a report that was published in September by the Dutch Social Economic Council, on the connection between the SDGs and Responsible Business Conduct.[1]

Arthur Wiggers
Deputy Director VNG International

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