Sequel to Nigeria and fellow African countries’ gathering in Beijing for the 7th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the benefits derived from the China-Africa cooperation within the last 18 years cannot be over emphasized. These benefits spanning from roads construction, light railways construction, hydropower projects to mention but a few, have aided the tremendous development witnessed in Africa. Within the last one year alone, China’s contribution to Africa’s economic development has risen significantly; worthy of note is the two-way trade and China’s total nonfinancial investment in Africa, which were 17 times and around 100 times more than what was obtained in the year 2000 respectively. As such, FOCAC has become a pacesetter in China-Africa cooperation and the largest and most effective South-South cooperation platform in the world.
Leveraging on the successes of the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit which was held in December 2015, China has taken steps to upgrade the FOCAC Beijing Summit in response to the positive and urgent wishes of the African members of FOCAC, through the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) between China and Africa.
This move is to inject fresh and strong impetus into China- Africa in order to further develop African countries by expanding the existing links between Asia, Africa and Europe through infrastructure investment in rail, road and port networks that is equalfooted, inclusive and beneficial to all.
The Summit presents a window of opportunity for a broader prospect for China-Africa comprehensive strategic partnership irrespective of detractors and distractions, as long as all parties adhere to the principle of shared growth through consultation and collaboration. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for African leaders to learn from the Chinese elite how to be focused, programmatic, result-oriented, patriotic, people-centred to concentrate on programmes and projects that benefits majority of the populace, such that it lifted 700 million Chinese out of poverty within a short period.
It is also worthy of note that unlike most African countries, in China the law is no respecter of status, beliefs or origins. Unlike the West, China is not domineering and overbearing; it does not ask its allies to join its turf battles, rather insists other countries join its economic sanctions, or be punished. China also teaches Africa that human circumstances and the world order can be changed not by threats.
The Deputy Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Lin Jing, had explained that the planning and implementation of BRI is a transparent process; there is no back-room deal, no winner takes all as every project delivers win-win results. According to him, China-Nigeria bilateral cooperation can benefit a lot from the new opportunities embedded in the Belt and Road Initiative to synergize the strategies of both country’s strategies, and the new perspectives for people-to-people cultural exchanges.
The Chinese government’s resolve to build a global community with a shared future with Africa as an indispensable partner, is a journey that started about 53 years ago, when the then Chinese leader, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, surprisingly saw the need to liberate and develop Africa after Britain and the Soviet Union refused to assist 17 African countries who gained independence in 1960 construct a railway line, at the expense of the ongoing development projects in China at the time in order to ensure African countries catch up with higher economies of the world.
Interestingly, the past 47 years of Nigeria and China’s diplomatic relations has been cordial and peaceful. Although there have been many attempts by both countries to consolidate this relationship, there is hope that with the Belt and Road Initiative about to be incorporated under the FOCAC, the ministry of foreign affairs will be able to provide an avenue for the existing relationship to be further consolidated and taken through to better heights, to ensure Nigeria’s interest is protected and promoted during the summit.
Expressing optimism on the outcome of the summit for Africa, Executive Director, Centre for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, opines that not only has the African nations and China been able to strengthen their solidarity and friendship, but each conference of the forum has introduced specific cooperation measures, especially the successful convening of 2006 Beijing Summit which has stirred significant reaction globally. Furthermore, FOCAC has assisted to foster south-south partnership and the development of global cooperation as well as inject positive energy into global peace, stability, and development. Since 2000, six FOCAC summits have been held at threeyear intervals.
The 18-year-old FOCAC has been the primary institutional platform and mechanism for the economic cooperation between China and African nations. Based on previous summits, China will probably pledge even higher contributions to African countries this year. These have already increased massively from US$5 billion in 2006, to US$60 billion spread into various funds and contributions in 2015. It could be as a part of President Xi’s prestige diplomacy, the level of commitment China made at the 2015 summit in Johannesburg was surprisingly extraordinary: The US$60 billion is pledged over a three-year period in loans and other assistance including human resources, infrastructure, and manufacturing.
This amount tripled the former US$20 billion commitment made by Hu Jintao during the 2012 FOCAC Summit in Beijing; the US$60 billion is anticipated to help address the challenges in Africa’s social and economic development. Not unexpectedly, railway development remains a major component of Chinese cooperation with Africa. A TAZARA-like project is the 754-kilometre Addis Ababa- Djibouti standard gauge line which links landlocked Ethiopia with the Djibouti port of Doraleh. Opened on January 1, 2018, about 95 per cent of Ethiopia’s trade passes that corridor, while the latter accounts for 70 per cent of activities at the Djibouti port.
Much of the Nigeria-China development projects are also railway-based. The Chinesebuilt Abuja-Kaduna Railway was opened in July 2016; the Abuja Rail Mass Transit was opened in July 2018; while the Lagos-Ibadan rail is on-going.
The Chinese are also building the Lekki Deep Water Port in Lagos and expanding the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. A major step in Nigeria-China relations is the Naira-RMB currency swap, which enables both countries bypass the internationally-dominant American dollar. In addition, every year Nigeria sends a total of 320 public servants to train in various field of endeavours in China, in 2012 the Chinese government contributed almost 1,000 boreholes across the country and constructed primary schools in specific locations across the country as well as the traffic light project which was completed in 2014.
Besides all these development projects, Nigeria’s focus at the 2018 FOCAC Summit, with the theme ‘China and Africa: Towards An Even Stronger Community With A Shared Future Through Win- Win Cooperation’, includes the construction of the 614-kilometre Ajaokuta-Kaduna- Kano (AKK) pipeline project with a projected 24-month construction period, designed to enable gas flow from the East, West and North.
It is on record that about four Nigerian Presidents have so far visited the People’s Republic of China but one significant visit was the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2016, which witnessed a number of signed agreements with the Chinese government, resulting in the current projects in Nigeria; the ongoing railway projects, the improvement in the airport terminals and the currency swap agreement.
Only recently the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria paid a visit to China to sign the currency swap agreement with the intention to revive the Mambila Hydro project. In the spirit of economic development, the Chinese government without doubt has been a reliable ally to Nigerian government in terms of infrastructure development, social development and cultural promotion of cultural diversity. However, Nigeria and its counterparts in the African region can get better mileage by collectively coordinating its activities with China, rather than engaging mainly in individual negotiations.
Africa should also take a cue from China and work towards transforming from dependency to self-sustenance. For China and the 53 African countries with which it has diplomatic relations, this summit will link the Belt and Road Initiative with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and individual countries’ development plans to explore new territory for Africa’s revival. FOCAC is a proven, effective platform for pragmatic China-Africa cooperation, and the Belt and Road Initiative is an important public good China is offering to the world. *Mohammed writes from Abuja.
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