China: Good or bad for Africa? Let Africans Judge

Published on 14th March 2011

HE. Liu Guangyuan
Africa is not new to H.E. Mr. Liu Guangyuan. He was posted in Ghana and Nigeria earlier in his career life as a diplomat and is now serving his first post as Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Kenya. He is also Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN Habitat. In these excerpts, he handles questions fronted by journalists during the 9th IREN Eastern Africa Media Training.

Q.Since serving as an ambassador in East Africa, what similarities and differences in culture have you noticed between China and Africa?

A. Both Chinese and African people share many connections and similarities in culture, way of doing things, values of judging the world, and goals to achieve. Both Chinese and African people are honest, optimistic, hardworking, hospitable, courageous and open-minded. These common characteristics and virtues are reflected by our similar historical experience to fight colonialism; the friendship we forged during our common struggle for national independence; the common task of development we face to benefit our people and the strategic interests we share to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Although differences certainly exist between us, what we need to do is to seek common ground while reserving differences. We ought to mingle well to get better understanding of each other. Some biased and unfair media coverage does lead to misunderstanding of African people towards China. Seeing believes. I believe that our African friends are wise and objective enough to tell the right and wrong by visiting and experiencing the real China. Back in 1970s and 1980s, not many Chinese visited Africa. Chinese TV stations used a lot of images provided by western media that Chinese people think of Africa as a place of diseases, poverty and deserts. Everything has changed due to our right, objective and proper publicity of Africa all these years. Today, more and more Chinese are coming to Africa as tourists, businessmen and students, among others, bearing in mind that Africa is a beautiful, energetic and promising continent. It is an unstoppable trend that African countries are united to pursue stability and development. I am happy to see that African people are getting more interested in China. The Chinese government encourages more African media friends to visit China and to bring China closer to the African people. The Chinese embassy is willing and ready to facilitate this venture and provide all necessary support.

Q. Is China’s assistance and investment to Africa playing a significant role in Africa’s economic and social development?

A. Ever since 1949, China has been offering sincere, trustworthy and friendly assistance to Africa. China has never attached any political conditions to such assistance. This principle was announced as early as 1964 by Premier Zhou Enlai. This principle is also a key distinction from other international aid to Africa. The purpose of China’s assistance is pure and selfless: help African countries with their social and economic development and improvement of their people’s living standard. Meanwhile, the majority of China’s assistance is in government-to-government model by non-currency delivery. We focus on concrete programmes such as infrastructure, livelihood projects, education and healthcare among others, from which the people can benefit directly. In a Forum on Sino-African Cooperation established at the beginning of the new century every 3 years, Chinese and African leaders will sit together to discuss the ways and means to assist each other and to gain win-win cooperation. This forum has contributed tremendously in promoting Sino-African strategic partnership.

China’s friendly assistance has won praise from governments and people all over Africa and contributes tremendously in promoting Sino-African economic and trade cooperation, mutual political trust and all-round strategic partnership. China’s investment in Africa has also played a big role in promoting Africa’s development. By August 2010, more than 2000 of Chinese companies had set up their branches in Africa, with various categories of investments amounting to USD 32.3 billion, taking up 10% of China’s total investment to foreign countries. China’s investment to Africa especially in infrastructure has seen an impressive list that includes roads, railways, schools, hospitals, telecommunication, clean energy and technology. Compared to assistance, investment is a more constructive way to achieve common development on a much larger scale, by bringing in technology, skills, management conceptions and employment opportunities to our fellow African countries. To facilitate further investments to Africa, it is my wish that African countries could provide a better environment for China’s investment, by offering more convenience for visa applications, speeding up project approval process and enhancing capacity building. Dr. Jean Ping, Chairperson of African Union Commission wrote an article titled “China Gives Africa Hope,” in which he emphasizes that Sino-African cooperation is win-win cooperation and both must work together and learn from each other.

I wish to emphasize that Sino-African agricultural cooperation has a promising future. China has made a great achievement by managing to feed 20% of world’s population with less than 9% of world’s farmland. We have abundant software and hardware that Africa needs to fulfill its dream of becoming the world’s “bread basket.” The Hybrid Rice technology invented by the agricultural expert Dr. Yuan Longping can produce 3600 kilos of rice per acre and has lifted tens of thousands of Chinese out of famine. Dr. Yuan Longping opened the first training class for Kenya and other African countries last May. China is ready to invest more to Africa in rice growing, fish breeding, vegetables planting and machines and facilities. All these are closely linked to African people’s basic needs and welfare.

Q. Is trade between China and Africa in favor of China or mutually beneficial?

A. The past decade has seen one of significant growth of Sino-African trade relations since the establishment of the Forum on Sino-African Cooperation. Our two-way trade has surged from USD 10 billion in 2000 to a historic USD 100 billion in 2008, of which USD 50.8 billion is China’s exports to Africa and USD 56 billion is imports from Africa, indicating a good trade balance. Although Sino-African trade volume dropped to USD 91.07 billion in 2009 as a result of the international financial crisis, China became Africa’s largest trade partner that year for the first time. As the global economy recovered, our trade maintained a favorable recovery and development momentum. Sino-African trade volume reached USD 126.9 billion in 2010, accounting for 4% of China’s total foreign trade.

Following the principle of mutual benefit and reciprocity, China has been promoting trade facilitation, and all-round, comprehensive and balanced Sino-African trade for years. Since 2005, China has offered the least developed countries in Africa zero tariffs with China on some of their exports to China. This favorable treatment had increased to 4700 taxable items and allowed USD 1.32 billion worth of African products exported to China by 2010.

China is also fighting fake and low-quality products home and abroad. Most recently, the Ministry of Commerce and China, together with other seven Ministries, initiated a joint campaign in fighting the fake and improving the quality of Chinese products so as to bring back the fame of Chinese foreign trade products. Some fake goods did flow from China to Africa, but the fact is clear that the majority of Chinese goods are of good quality with low prices. The Chinese government has declared war against the fake, so our African friends now have every reason to believe that products from China are good, safe, genuine and reliable. While China is controlling its export source, I think it is time for governments of African countries to do something in monitoring and supervising their import gate. Local dealers must be taught and warned not to import fake products of low costs for high profits. Please inform us whenever a face case is revealed, so that joint efforts could be taken.

Q. Why must China and Africa be friends, brothers and partners?

A. Firstly, our longstanding friendship is historical. As early as two centuries B.C., Chinese Han Dynasty began exchanges with African countries. More than 1000 years ago, Chinese Tang Dynasty started exchanges with Africa. The most important ancient period of China-Africa exchanges was in Chinese Ming Dynasty when official visits took place, marked by the Chinese great navigator Zheng. His visit to Africa during his voyages to the Western Seas over 600 years ago. History and traditions have brought us together with a bond that is deeply rooted in each other’s hearts and souls.

Secondly, the common historical fate and experience in fighting colonialism and striving for national independence have brought us together. We are both deeply aware backwardness and poverty leaves one vulnerable to attack. That’s why we have been sticking together and helping each other. The Sino-African friendship was jointly developed by Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai and older generation of African statesmen. It is an invaluable political asset and tradition for both of us and it gives us a unique strategic advantage. We have every reason to cherish it, uphold it and let it grow even stronger. China shall never forget that its African brothers “carried” it into UN in 1971 and have given it generous support ever since on every international and multilateral front. Without Africa’s support, we would by no means become where we are today. We shall keep on offering the same generosity and sincerity.

Solidarity and cooperation with African countries is always the very basis and point of departure of China’s foreign policy. We have always given respect to the sovereignty and development of African countries and never interfered in Africa’s internal affairs. We havev always followed the principle of equality and mutual benefit in conducting cooperation with foreign countries.

Three, we have much to share in order to overtake our common challenges and realize our common development goals at present stage. China still remains the largest developing country of the worl while Africa is the continent with the greatest number of developing countries. China is consistently emerging as a country of one of the best choices to do business in Africa. We are delighted to see that Africa has so much to achieve in the future. When China was a poor country in the past, we regarded African countries as our best friends. When China is gaining fast development, we think the same and will work jointly with you to achieve harmony and common prosperity. This will never change with the development of China’s economy, or the changes in China’s international standing, or the changes of the international situation.

Q.Who can make proper judgments on China’s existence in Africa?

A. When Sino-African relationship is moving forward and the African people rejoice at its progress, some in the world are not very comfortable with this and are saying that China is no longer a developing country, that China no longer needs Africa or thinks of Africa as important and that China will team with someone to jointly “manage” the world. Some have gone so sensational as to claim that China is repeating the colonial path of exploiting Africa. I am not going to explain anything, because I know that actions speak louder than word and seeing is believing. It is for the African people to judge whether China is good or bad for them. Actually, a recent survey conducted by some western media shows that China is the most favored country for Africans. We Chinese are born to have an introverted personality, preferring doing rather than saying. Of course, we should try to change a little bit in this aspect by improving our publicity and raising our voices. More support and understanding from our African friends are most needed and deeply appreciated, especially those from the African media friends.

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