Nº 5 2014 > Electing ITU top executives: Meet the candidates
Interview with Houlin Zhao (China)
Candidate for the post of ITU Secretary‑General
What are your top three priorities for ITU and how do you see the Union’s continued relevance in a hyper-connected world?
Houlin Zhao: In a constantly changing environment, it is important to be able to adjust our order of priorities to respond to the situations we face. At this moment, I would like to highlight the following three priority areas.
ITU membership — I will continue to work to secure confidence and to enlist the support of ITU Member States, as well as to strengthen the participation of Sector Members, Associates and Academia in ITU activities.
ITU’s effectiveness — I will increase the efficiency of ITU in order to meet new challenges, and will enhance our cooperation with partners to strengthen ITU’s leading position in global ICT development.
ICT promotion — I will work to promote telecommunication and information and communication technology services to help achieve a better life for all.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are key enablers of social and economic development and of an environmentally sustainable future for all of the world’s people. The astounding growth that we have seen in recent years, particularly in mobile and ICT-enabled applications, will continue. The world of big data is evolving rapidly.
Meanwhile, end users are concerned about issues such as security, privacy, quality of service, and service charges. Service providers are facing challenges in regard to investment and the sustainability of business models. Regulators are focusing on the healthy development of markets. All these stakeholders will continue to play their roles in the future development of ICT, striving to maximize the benefits and minimize inherent risks. In this environment, ITU will become ever more relevant.
The ITU membership traditionally takes decisions on the basis of consensus. What approaches have you used in the past to build consensus?
Houlin Zhao: Building consensus involves carefully listening to different parties, understanding their concerns and encouraging them to make compromises.
I have successfully used this approach on numerous occasions during more than two decades of working in ITU. To give just one example, as Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) I led discussions between ITU, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on harmonizing policy approaches to intellectual property rights. Through mutual respect and patiently addressing the concerns of each of these three organizations, I managed to steer the discussions towards consensus, leading to the adoption of a Common Patent Policy for ITU/ISO/IEC, still in use today.
ITU’s “federal” structure — the General Secretariat along with the Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization, and Telecommunication Development Sectors — is unique in international governance. How do you intend to leverage this structure for maximum impact, while ensuring the unity of the Union?
Houlin Zhao: From the outset, the ITU “federal” structure has demonstrated its worth.
As Deputy Secretary‑General, I assisted the Secretary‑General and coordinated with the other elected officials in successfully managing ITU’s activities and strategies, and maintaining good contacts with members. Also, from my eight years of experience as Director of TSB, I know how important it is for ITU’s top management to work together as a team.
Looking ahead, I would draw strength from the good teamwork of the elected officials and from my experience of the “federal” system, using its advantages to strive for even better management of the Union in the future.
What do you see as ITU’s aims in continuing to lead the World Summit on the Information Society?
Houlin Zhao: The WSIS process was initiated by ITU Member States at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Minneapolis, United States, in 1998, and ITU successfully managed two phases of WSIS — one in Geneva in December 2003 and the other in Tunis in November 2005.
WSIS has modernized the concept of the information society across the globe. The annual WSIS Forum, which ITU organizes in coordination with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), allows Member States and other stakeholders to share their success stories and lessons of ICT development.
Because there are still many challenges and opportunities to be taken up by the global ICT family, I would support the efforts being made by our members for ITU to continue to lead the WSIS process beyond 2015.
The United Nations post-2015 sustainable development agenda will address new challenges facing people and the planet. How should ITU contribute to shaping that agenda?
Houlin Zhao: I led an ITU delegation to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil, in June 2012. I am very pleased that the resulting outcome document — “The Future We Want” — repeatedly highlights the importance of ICT for sustainable development. “The Future We Want” underlines the need to improve access to ICT, especially broadband networks and services, and to bridge the digital divide.
The United Nations Member States are engaged in formulating a single development framework — the Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
We have to continue convincing stakeholders that ICT play an important role in promoting the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and will thus contribute to a sustainable future for the planet and for present and future generations.
We will actively participate in the United Nations process for future sustainable development. We will encourage Member States, industry, non-governmental organizations and all stakeholders to join in our efforts to promote sustainable development through the use of ICT, and wherever possible we will join in their efforts to achieve the same goal.
ITU’s 150th anniversary in 2015 will be celebrated under the theme “Telecommunications and ICTs: Drivers of Innovation”. What in your view are the three innovations in this industry that have most changed our world? And what do you see as the most significant technological innovation on the horizon?
Houlin Zhao: Mobile phone communications and the Internet are two recent innovations that have changed societies everywhere on the globe. Smartphones or cloud computing could be the third, but I would pick the liberalization of the telecommunication market and the introduction of market competition as an approach that has greatly contributed to the success of new technologies in today’s world.
For the future, I would like to see devices with more intelligent functions, but that are simpler and easier to use.
What needs to be done to bring more women into leadership positions, both in ITU and in the ICT sector as a whole?
Houlin Zhao: We should continue to work hard to improve the gender balance and to support youth. But I do not want to single out just one or two specific items from my list of priorities, which covers other urgent or important areas such as universal access, empowering indigenous people, and child online protection. We will work together to address issues in areas where actions are justified.
People are a crucial part of any organization. What is your message to ITU staff?
Houlin Zhao: Staff are the Union’s greatest asset, and by working together in a motivated and efficient team they keep ITU dynamic, energetic and successful. Speaking as an elected official, I can say that we are very proud of our staff.
I myself was a staff member of ITU between 1986 and 1998, and of course I like to see our staff enjoying their work. I would like to assure our staff that I will endeavour to make ITU better and stronger.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Houlin Zhao: Vision, Action, Harmony.
Short biography of Houlin Zhao
Houlin Zhao was elected ITU Deputy Secretary‑General at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, in 2006, and re‑elected for a second four-year term at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2010.
Before becoming Deputy Secretary‑General, he served as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) from 1999 to 2006, first elected at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Minneapolis, United States, in 1998, and re‑elected at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2002. From 1986 to 1992, Mr Zhao was a senior staff member in what was then the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (known under its French acronym CCITT), and from 1993 to 1998 in TSB.
Prior to joining ITU, Mr Zhao served as an engineer in the Design Institute of China’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. He contributed seminal articles to a number of prestigious Chinese technical publications, and in 1985 was awarded a prize for his achievements in science and technology within the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
Born in 1950 in Jiangsu, China, Mr Zhao graduated from Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and holds a Master of Science degree in Telematics from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.