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Africa’s relationship with China beyond just loans

By Ikenna Emewu  (People's Daily Online)    14:19, June 19, 2019

In 1992, Margee Ensign wrote about Japan’s foreign aid program in her book Doing Good or Doing Well. In the book, Ensign raised the question in diplomatic studies that draws a parallel between ‘doing good’ and ‘doing well’.

'Doing Good’ is defined by charity service or so-called selfless service where one renders assistance and walks away without waiting for anything in return. ‘Doing Well’ is what China aptly describes as ‘win-win’.

In diplomacy, of course, no country does ‘good’. All they do is ‘well’, because the doer is also a stakeholder and has an intention to benefit, at least in goodwill and friendship.

I think getting this right at the beginning would help our perception of the multilateral relationship between China and Africa, especially in regards to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) platform that is now 19 years old.

Today, China is at the center of such global issues as Japan faced previously. Western critics of the China-Africa relationship emphasize so much on Chinese loans to African countries, the motives and how they re-colonize Africa.

This slant also seems to worry China, as many Chinese journalists have asked me this question many times and what Africa thinks about it.

My answer has remained the same – if Africa allows China to recolonize her today, then Africa should blame herself for such unfathomable folly.

However, a closer look at the details of the relationship between the two sides will show if it has all been just Chinese loans and re-enslavement of Africa, or if the Asian economic giant has caused any good in the development of the human capital of Africa, which is the best way to make a lasting input on the future of the people.

On July 31, 2018, as the Confucius Institute of the University of Lagos held its graduation and job fair, the body of Chinese investors in Nigeria announced that it would award scholarships to about 63 students to study in Chinese institutions.

While some of them were for short programmes, most were for first and second degree courses with all fees paid.

That development was part of the consolidation of the growing links between China and Africa and by extension, with Nigeria.

However, four months after, the same institute in liaison with the investor body took on the challenge that the university’s Vice-Chancellor had thrown at them, to establish more links with the university for a better relationship.

In November, the university’s Nigeria-China Development Studies Institute was established.

Moreover, on April 12, 2018, in Abuja, the Chinese construction giant CCECC held a career workshop for some fresh Nigerian university graduates as soon as they had completed one year of national service.

The outcome was the immediate employment of 50 graduates in that firm. The management of the company had said it was one of the first steps for large scale employment of Nigerians in the system and ensuring that Nigerians have a well-skilled labour presence in the company.

In the middle of May 2019, during a visit to the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pinjian in Abuja revealed that the number of Nigerian students in Chinese universities on scholarship as of last year was more than 6,500.

Moreover, CNN reported in June 2017 that, ‘The surge in the number of African students in China is remarkable. In less than 15 years the African student body has grown 26-fold -- from just under 2,000 in 2003 to almost 50,000 in 2015.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the US and UK host around 40,000 African students a year. China surpassed this number in 2014, making it the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad, after France, which hosts just over 95,000 students.

This dramatic increase in students from Africa can be explained in part by the Chinese government's targeted focus on African human resources and educational development. Starting in 2000, China's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summits have promised financial and political support for African education at home and abroad in China.

Since 2006, China has set scholarship targets to aid African students who wish to study in China. For example, during the most recent 2015 summit, China pledged to provide 30,000 scholarships to African students by 2018.

Taking it in sectors, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged in 2015 at the FOCAC summit in Johannesburg that the country would host about 1,000 African journalists in exchange training in 2016 alone.

While on tour of Shandong Province as journalism Fellows of the China Public Diplomacy in 2016, we visited companies in Qingdao and one of the points of call was a power company where the management received us with 50 African students. They were later introduced to us as Zimbabweans studying in universities in the province on company scholarships.

At the Sinotruk headquarters in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong, I met Mr. Zhang Yuzong, Executive Director, Africa Division, who told me he would be travelling to Nigeria two months later for the commencement of their production at a Lagos factory in partnership with the Dangote Group. In March of the following year, I attended a seminar on investment by Chinese investors and their Nigerian counterparts alongside the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, during which we toured the truck assembly plant within the LekkiFree Trade Zone, Lagos, a multi-billion dollar project powered by Chinese investors and Dangote. The mega project is not about loans.

Another important report reflected that China’s direct investment in Africa soared by 64 percent in the first quarter of 2017. China’s total trade with Africa rose 16.8 percent to $38.8 billion in the first quarter of the same year.

The report examines the relationship between the “dragons”—Chinese firms investing in Africa—and the “lions”—African economies receiving Chinese investment. Through face-to-face interviews with 1,073 Chinese firms across eight African countries—Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia—McKinsey explored the current and future plans of different Chinese businesses there.

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company published a report entitled “Dance of the lions and dragons,” which analyzes the current and long-term trajectory of Chinese engagement in Africa, noting that China has become Africa’s most significant economic partner over the past two decades. In fact, currently, more than 10,000 Chinese firms are conducting business operations on the continent. According to the report, 74 percent of surveyed Chinese firms feel optimistic and confident about investing in Africa. In fact, most investments by Chinese firms reflect long-term commitments to Africa. The features show that 63 percent of the investments made by the surveyed Chinese firms in Africa require long-term commitments, while 26 percent are low-commitment. Indeed, 44 percent of the surveyed firms have made capital-intensive investments—the hardest investments to reverse. These investments tend to come in the form of factory acquisitions and the purchase of manufacturing equipment. Conversely, trade and non-labour-intensive contracting investments (e.g., telecommunications) are the easiest investments to extract and comprise a smaller proportion of investments by Chinese firms in sub-Saharan Africa. This was published by the reputed American Brookings Institute.

Likewise, foreign investments from China to Africa have far outstripped those of the US in Africa in the past four years, especially in the establishment of production bases.

These narrations are to buttress that the relationship between Africa/Nigeria and China is beyond mere advance of loans to her.

Emewu is a journalist with the AFRI-CHINA MEDIA CENTRE Lagos, Nigeria 

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