Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018
October 23, 2018

Meet the Candidates: Houlin Zhao for ITU Secretary-General

ITU’s Member States will soon elect the Union’s top executives at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 (PP-18) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. ITU News is highlighting written interviews (Q&As) with the candidates for each of ITU’s top posts. Below is the Q&A for Houlin Zhao, candidate for Secretary-General.

How should ITU evolve to maintain relevance in today’s world?

In the recent decade, modern telecommunication/information and communication technology (ICT) services and technologies have developed rapidly. Today, the number of mobile‑cellular subscriptions worldwide exceeds the global population, and about half the world is connected to the Internet.

To meet future expectations, ITU needs to foster new technologies to offer better services. Bearing in mind that about half of the global population currently remains unconnected, ITU needs to further promote connecting the unconnected.

“We need to upgrade existing ICT infrastructure, and we need to extend it to reach those poorly connected or unconnected areas.”

To this end, I wish to highlight “Four Is”: Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation and Inclusiveness. We need to upgrade existing ICT infrastructure, and we need to extend it to reach those poorly connected or unconnected areas. We need to encourage more investment, from both the public and private sectors, and we need to create a good environment to attract investment. We need both technology and business innovation. We should not leave anyone behind.

ITU also needs to continue to improve its efficiency and transparency, and to work more with its partners and stakeholders to facilitate ICTs for social and economic development.

What are your top three priorities and how do you plan to achieve them?

In a constantly changing environment, it is important that we are able to adjust our order of priorities to respond to the challenges we face. I would like to highlight the following three priorities: efficiency, focus, and promotion.

“To meet ever‑increasing demand for our services, we have no choice but to increase our efficiency.”

We have done a lot, and we will continue to work hard on efficiency, associated with transparency. We are aware of our mandates, our competencies as well as our constraints. To meet ever‑increasing demand for our services, we have no choice but to increase our efficiency. With my long‑serving experience at the top level of ITU management, I can bring more efficiency.

We need to focus on our main tasks and deliver our services with the highest satisfaction of ITU members to maintain ITU’s preeminent role, and wherever necessary, to further strengthen it. Our major tasks cover those in the technical area: 5G, Internet‑of‑Things (IoT), big data, cloud computing, cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence (AI), financial inclusion, satellite communications, digital TV, digital broadcasting, space communications, spectrum management, etc. In the market development area, they include: policy, regulation, national strategy, capacity building, and facilitating ICTs into applications of other ecosystems, etc. Furthermore, special services such as emergency communication services, would have to be further strengthened.

We have greatly improved our promotional activities in the past, but we need to do more in the future. We need to promote the important role of ICTs for social and economic development in the information era. We need to encourage more investment in ICT innovation and development. We need to promote ITU services and their potential. We need to further promote ITU’s collaborative platform among ICT industry and business partners.

What do you see as ITU’s unique role in accelerating progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals?

I am very inspired by the meaningful statement by the United Nations (UN) Secretary‑General, António Guterres, at last year’s ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC‑17). He said: “Information and communication technologies can help us on each and every Sustainable Development Goal”.

In my opinion, ICTs are rarely part of the problem, but ICTs usually contribute to a solution to any problem. ITU has played a key role in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process. ITU has established close cooperation with many UN agencies on facilitating the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, jointly managed by ITU and UNESCO, will continue to foster ICT for SDGs. In recent years, ITU has demonstrated its leadership within the UN system on addressing issues related to new technologies such as AI.

We will actively participate in the UN process on sustainable development. We will encourage ITU Member States, industry members, non‑governmental organizations and all stakeholders to join in efforts to promote sustainable development through the use of ICTs. Wherever possible, we will take a leading role, or we will reach out to collaborate with others.

What has been your most important leadership achievement?

If I may, I wish to highlight the fact that, with my suggestion to the host countries, the ICT ministerial meetings were organized for the first time, in 2015, by BRICS (the world’s leading emerging economies), in 2016 by G7 (seven of the world’s advanced economies): and in 2017 by G20 (19 countries plus the European Union), respectively. ITU was invited to join each of those first meetings. These meetings were all continued in early 2018, and they will all be held in 2019. I participated at the G20 meeting in Argentina in August 2018, and at the BRICS meeting in South Africa in September 2018.

“We need to focus on our main tasks and deliver our services with the highest satisfaction of ITU members to maintain ITU’s preeminent role, and wherever necessary, to further strengthen it.”

With my efforts, supported by Heads of States/Governments, ICTs were included in the list of priorities highlighted in the keynote speech at the “Beijing Summit of the Forum on China‑Africa Cooperation” held in September 2018. Actions on ICT cooperation are specified and a reference to ITU is included in its out‑ put document, the “Beijing Action Plan (2019–2021)”. All these meetings helped enormously to promote ICTs, and to some extent, ITU as well.

How have you built consensus amongst diverse stakeholders?

I consider transparency and fairness to be the key elements for success in consensus building. I listen to ITU members, ITU partners and my colleagues, depending on the situation. I try to understand their opinions and concerns. I appreciate their positive proposals and flexibility. I encourage them to make compromises. I have always demonstrated my respect, honesty, and care for my audience. All has been returned with good work results, but more importantly, with the trust, confidence and support of ITU members, ITU partners, and my colleagues.

“We need to encourage more investment, from both the public and private sectors, and we need to create a good environment to attract investment.”

I would like to refer to the approvals of the last two draft ITU biennial budgets prepared under my leadership during my current term in office as ITU Secretary‑ General. In the past, we always had difficulty in getting approval of the draft ITU biennial budgets. However, the last two drafts were approved without a lengthy discussion at the ITU Council meetings concerned. I consider those two cases as proof of my answer to this question.

What else would you like to add?

I will continue to address issues on gender, supporting youth, and empowering indigenous peoples. New topics such as e‑waste, etc. could also be added to my list of priorities.

Houlin Zhao is currently the Secretary-General of ITU. Learn more about Mr. Zhao and the other candidates for ITU’s top posts on the Candidates page of the PP-18 website.
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Meet the Candidates: Houlin Zhao for ITU Secretary-General

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