Looking to the Future: Innovation, Philanthropy, and Global Leadership
– Remarks by Bill Gates at Peking University
March 24, 2017
Thank you, Professor Lin. It’s great to be here today. Beida has an incredible history and I’m sure next year, as you celebrate your 120th-year anniversary, you’ll get to look back on the incredible contributions that you have made to this country.
I’ve been coming to China since the early 1990s, initially as part of my work at Microsoft. It was ten years ago that I was privileged to be named an honorary trustee here at Beida. I remember what a great time I had in 2008 when I was here watching the Olympic table tennis semi-finals between China and South Korea.
As I’m sure you remember, China took the gold medal in every category – men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s and women’s team’s event. That was on top of two silvers and two bronze medals. For someone who’s a big table tennis fan, that was pretty incredible to witness.
And that highlights in one way, what incredible potential China has. China is on a quest for excellence, a quest not only to improve itself but to contribute to the whole world.
As China’s economy is maturing, it’s making bold and difficult decisions on things like energy and pollution. And it’s assuming a greater role in critical issues like climate and development. And this matters now more than ever as the world is navigating a time of change and uncertainty.
In some rich countries, there is skepticism about globalization. The results of the U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote in the UK, both seem to underscore a rise of turning inward on issues like migration, security, and perhaps even global development.
It’s great to see China stepping up to engage even more with other countries. It is greatly equipped to do so. No other country has accomplished what China has achieved in the last few decades – breaking the relentless cycle of poverty and disease for hundreds of millions of people while modernizing its economy at a scale and speed unprecedented in human history.
Although no one is expecting China to fill a gap in development aid from wealthy countries, it has made a very smart commitment to triple its commitment to African development. China has long understood that helping other countries lift themselves out of poverty creates a stable and secure world for people everywhere.
And by encouraging investment through innovative financing mechanisms like the China-Africa Development Fund, China is strengthening not only Africa’s economic capacity, but also, over time, the markets for Chinese goods.
It’s great to see President Xi’s commitment to eliminate extreme poverty here in China by 2020. China did a great job of lifting millions out of poverty. But progress has been uneven. Forty-three million people still live in extreme poverty.
Our foundation looks forward to a new partnership with China that will focus on innovative ideas to bring this number down to zero – working on nutrition, healthcare in rural areas, and also finding ways to increase financial services for the poor.
Of course, China isn’t not only striving to reach new heights here at home. It’s using its own experience fighting poverty and disease to help other countries tackle similar challenges. When I was in Beijing a few years ago, Vice Premier Wang Yang said something that stayed with me. He said: “Africa today is our yesterday.” Now, China is using the lessons it’s learned to usher in a new tomorrow for Africa, too.
This is a pretty incredible time to be a young person in China. Your generation’s entrance into the workforce will coincide with your country’s rise as a center of global progress and innovation. The world’s eyes are on China. . .and as a new generation comes of age, the world’s eyes are specifically on all of you.
So, I want to spend the rest of my comments focusing on four areas where I think there are exciting opportunities to use your education, your passion, and opportunities to unlock more amazing progress – for both China and for the world. Specifically, health, agriculture, energy, and technology.
First, health. When my wife and I started the Gates foundation 17 years ago, we asked ourselves: how can we use our financial resources to make the biggest impact? It didn’t take long to realize that improving health deserved to be at the top of the list.
When people aren’t healthy, they can’t learn in school or be productive at work. They’re unable to seize economic opportunities or do any of the things they need to lift themselves out of poverty.
Melinda and I saw the example of China creating a better life for its people, and it inspired us to see if there was a way to support China’s progress. Over the last decade, our work here has focused on several of the most persistent domestic health challenges – specifically reducing the incidence of tuberculosis and tobacco-related diseases, preventing HIV transmission, and improving treatment and care for people living with AIDS.
We are continuing to support progress in these areas, but our work in China is also evolving along with China’s new priorities. For example, China has a great opportunity to be a global leader in health innovation.
No one exemplifies the strong history here better than Professor Tu Youyou. As I’m sure most of you know, Professor Tu is a Beida graduate and the first woman in China to win a Nobel Prize.
She was, of course, recognized for her discovery of artemisinin, the powerful medicine used to treat malaria. It was one of the most significant breakthroughs in tropical medicine in the 20th century and it has saved millions of lives.
With its rich pool of talented scientists and its capacity to develop new drugs and vaccines, China was a clear choice for us to locate a new Global Health Drug Discovery Institute. This institute – a collaboration between our foundation, the Beijing Government, and Tsinghua University – will help speed the discovery and development of new lifesaving medicines.
I had a chance earlier today to meet with some of the Chinese scientists who are driving cutting-edge research. For example, Dr. He Ruyi is the Chief Scientist at the Center for Drug Evaluation for the Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). His work – and the reforms being carried out by his agency – will create an environment where innovation will thrive. We are working with the CFDA to bring in more experts like Dr. Ruyi to help improve its regulatory capacity so that more Chinese health products can be made accessible to the entire world, including developing countries.
One area that China has an incredible chance to lead in is in both reducing malaria and eventually eradicating malaria. With Chinese leadership, we have a chance to make malaria the third wide-scale human disease – after smallpox and, soon, polio – to be wiped off the face of the earth.
A little more than a century ago, malaria was the leading cause of death in nearly every country on earth. There has been great progress since then, and China is on track to eliminate malaria completely in the next few years. But more than 3.2 billion people around the world still live in areas where there’s a significant risk of malaria infection.
To achieve the goal of global eradication, we need to build on Professor Tu’s discovery of artemisinin and develop more powerful tools – like a single-dose cure and better ways to block transmission of malaria from mosquitos to humans.
China has the potential to develop these new high-impact solutions at a very low cost that the developing world can afford. We can start today by doing the elimination of malaria in places like the Mekong River basin and in the southern part of Africa.
Drawing on lessons learned from its own experience, China can help ensure that every family has bed nets to protect them from infection. And it can help countries strengthen their health and disease systems to better diagnose, treat, and prevent future cases of malaria.