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China's development success is unparalleled: 700 million people lifted out of poverty in just 35 years; faster rates of decline in maternal and child mortality than in any other country; infectious diseases like malaria virtually eliminated domestically.
No other country in history has achieved so much in such a short time. That is why, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are convinced of China's potential as a development partner for the rest of the world. China's experience, expertise and innovation capacity have so much to offer as the global community works towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and we are committed to supporting China as it contributes to their success.
And yet the foundation, as an organization, faces the same challenge as much of the western world when it comes to engaging with China: collectively, we just do not know enough about it.
My colleagues are deeply knowledgeable and dedicated to making the world a more equitable place. Those that work directly with China have a profound understanding of this huge and complex country. However, when I joined the foundation two years ago as Director of the China Program, I found that misconceptions and misunderstandings about China were common. I suspect this problem is not unique to the Gates Foundation.
Having been fortunate enough to divide my education and working life between the US and China, I have become accustomed to navigating the differences between East and West. My aim in writing the pieces in this book was to bring my experience to bear in helping people better understand China – its present reality, its history, its way of thinking about the world. My hope in creating this collection is that they will provide useful material for friends and partners who find themselves in a similar situation and wish to bridge the knowledge gap between China and the West.
The articles in this book were written and disseminated on a regular basis over the course of the past two years. My original target audience was my colleagues in Seattle, where the foundation has its headquarters. (This is why the articles make occasional reference to Seattle.) They do not follow any thematic threads but are presented in chronological order, snapshots of a particular moment in time. They are made up entirely of my personal observations and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or of Bill and Melinda themselves.
I have done what I can to make sure the data cited is as accurate as possible but this is not an academic publication and I have not included detailed referencing. As such, any numbers or data I cite should be double-checked before being quoted elsewhere. It should also be borne in mind that while the data in these pieces was correct at the time of writing, it may well be out of date by the time you read this.
The world has set itself ambitious goals. If we are going to succeed in achieving sustainable development by 2030 then we are going to need China's help. I hope this book will play a small role in bridging the gap and facilitating partnership through increased understanding.
My thanks to Philip Nelson for his support in compiling these issues.
Yinuo Li, September 2017
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