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Ambassador Liu Guijin: China in Africa--a Sincere, Cooperative, and Equal Partner(fulltext of speech)
2006/10/25

 

China in Africa: a Sincere, Cooperative, and Equal Partner

Speech by Ambassador Liu Guijin of the People's Republic of China to the Republic of South Africa at the Africa Dialogue Lecture Series Held by the University of Pretoria

25 October 2006

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

I have been engaged in China's diplomacy with Africa for over 25 years. It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to talk about China's role in Africa as part of the Africa Dialogue Lecture Series. I wish to express my thanks and appreciation to the University of Pretoria, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, and all of you for having me here.

There are quite a few "firsts" this year in China's relations with Africa, so it can be reliably called China's Year of Africa. In January, the Chinese government released its White Paper of China's African Policy. It is the very first time that China has ever done this. In April and June, for the first time that within three months in the same year, both Chinese President and Premier visited Africa respectively. And in less than ten days from now, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit will be held in Beijing. This is again the first time in China's diplomacy with Africa. Against such a background, it is not a surprise that China-Africa relations draw so much attention in China herself, in Africa, and even in other parts of the world.

Now, I would like to begin my presentation with a briefing on overall China-Africa relationship. I think this will be helpful to your understanding about the subject of China in Africa in a historic perspective.

China and Africa are geographically far apart. If we look at the map of the world, it is 12,933 kilometers from Beijing,the Capital of China,to the Cape of Good Hope, the south-west corner of this beautiful continent. But despite the long distance, our bond of friendship and cooperation has enjoyed a long history and remain ever strong and vibrant.

As you may know, friendly exchanges between China and Africa date back to ancient times. By the 6th century, China and Africa already had direct contacts via sea route. 600 years ago, Zheng He, the famous Chinese navigator of the Ming Dynasty, led the then largest fleet in the world and made voyages to the eastern coast of Africa, visiting places in Somalia and Kenya of today for four times. In 2002, a copy of the Chinese map entitled "Da Ming Hun Yi Tu", or "the Great Ming Amalgamated Map", made a stir in South Africa while being displayed as part of the Parliamentary Millennium Project Exhibition. That map was drawn in the year of 1389 and is recognized as the earliest map in the world which outlines the whole African continent. It proves that direct communications between China and Africa were over 100 years earlier than the "discovery of the African continent" by Europeans. In this context, China was the first country to have official contacts and exchanges with Africa.

The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 opened a new chapter in China-Africa relationship. The year of 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and African countries. Over the years, China and Africa have supported each other in the fight for national sovereignty and dignity, worked hand in hand in the pursuit of economic development and safeguarding the rights and interests of the developing world. China has tried its best to provide timely assistance to Africa. In spite of its limited financial and material resources, China has completed some 900 projects of economic and social development in Africa including the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA), provided scholarships for 18,000 students from 50 African countries to study in China, and sent 16,000 medical personnel to 47 African countries and they have treated 240 million patients. Over 3,000 Chinese military personnel have been involved in peace-keeping operations in hot-spot areas in Africa. China also actively promotes trade with and investment in Africa, helps ease its debt burden, supports regional cooperation and helps Africa to achieve self-development. On the other hand, we Chinese will never forget Africa's support to China. Over the decades, Africa has always firmly supported China on major issues involving China's national interests such as the restoration of China's lawful seat in the United Nations and the Taiwan issue. China-Africa relationship is truly one of equality, friendship and mutual benefit based on the common interests.

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the political relations between China and African countries have become more mature with their economic cooperation and cultural exchange entering a new stage. The FOCAC, which was established in 2000 and I personally had the honor to serve as the Secretary-General of its preparatory committee and following-up committee at that time, has become an effective mechanism for collective dialogue between China and Africa and an important platform to carry out pragmatic cooperation. In the past six years, leaders of both sides have paid frequent visits to each other. The China-Africa trade volume has increased from US$10.6 billion to US$39.8 billion. Under the framework of FOCAC, China has cancelled more than 10.5 billion Yuan (US$ 1.3 billion) of debt for 31

African countries and imposed zero tariffs on 30 least developed countries (LDCs) covering 190 commodities. China has also trained about 14,600 personnel for Africa and chosen 17 African countries as destinations for outbound Chinese tourists. At the UN 60th Anniversary Summit last year, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced five major steps to assist other developing countries in speeding up their development. African countries are the main beneficiaries. As to the upcoming FOCAC Beijing Summit, I believe that broad consensus and concrete results are highly expectable.

To sum up, China-Africa friendship is time-honored and China's relationship with Africa is always a cornerstone of China's foreign policy. To consolidate and expand its friendship and cooperation with Africa is a long-term strategy pursued by China. China sincerely hopes to see Africa develop and grow stronger. Guided by the principle of sincerity, friendship, equality, mutual benefit and common development, China is committed to building a new type of strategic partnership with Africa. China will enhance political equality and mutual trust, promote win-win economic cooperation, enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and maintain close cooperation in international affairs with Africa. The FOCAC Beijing Summit will surely turn over a new page in the history of China-Africa relations.

Dear Friends,

South Africa is China's key partner of strategic cooperation in Africa. Our two countries share extensive common ground politically and enjoy enormous potential of cooperation economically. The Chinese government places great value on promoting China-South Africa cooperation and is committed to deepening the strategic partnership between our two countries.

I have been privileged to serve my country as ambassador to South Africa for over 5 years. From my numerous days and nights of personal experience here in this beautiful rainbow nation, I know that the government of South Africa values this bilateral relationship as much as the Chinese government does, the people of South Africa are cordial and friendly to the Chinese people as much as the Chinese to South Africans. I have every confidence that through concerted efforts the China-South Africa strategic partnership will grow deeper and stronger and make more contribution to broader China-Africa relationship in the years to come.

At the same time, I have also noticed that there is some noise about China's presence in Africa. It mainly comes from a small group of people who look at China from colored spectacles. But for most people, their doubts and concerns about China are all because of their lack of knowledge about China. Today, let me just stick to the subject you thoughtfully assigned to me and share my personal views with you.

According to some media, China is or will be a "neocolonialist" in Africa. Is that convincing?

As China's ambassador here, my response to this question is something you can bet your bottom dollar on. But I do not think it is right to force my conclusion on you and I am not trying to do so.

What brings to my mind at the moment is that China could be a colonialist hundreds of years ago if China ever wanted to be one. As you may remember, I mentioned earlier Zheng He, the famous navigator of China's Ming Dynasty. 600 years ago, he led the then largest fleet in the world and made seven voyages to the "Western Seas," reaching more than 30 countries and regions in Asia and Africa. Even today, the relics of the crew of his fleet can still be found in Kenya and other countries.

The era of colonialism began only after the Great Geographic Discovery by Europeans. Zheng He's voyages through the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, however, were 87 years earlier than Columbus' voyage, 92 years earlier than Vasco Da Gama's voyage, and 114 years earlier than Magellan's voyage. But what Zheng He took to the places he visited were tea, chinaware, silk and technology. He did not occupy an inch of any newly discovered land or set up any military fortresses.

Why Zheng He did not become a colonialist? I am not a historian. But I can say with certainty that he did not lack the power to be one. With around 200 ships and 27,800 people, his fleet was without any doubt the largest and the most powerful in the world 600 years ago.

Zheng He did not colonize before the era of colonialism, nor did his countrymen till the end of the colonialism era. What I want to call your attention to is the fact that before the year of 1840 China had been a giant power in the world for centuries. According to calculations by the renowned economic historian Angus Maddison, China produced a quarter of total world output 2,000 years ago, and almost the same proportion 1,000 years ago. Around 1400, which happened to witness a middle-aged Zheng He who lived from 1371 to 1435, China's national economic output was estimated to be equal to that of Europe. Even as late as 1820, it is estimated that China still produced one third of the world's output. China had been made poor and weak only by repeated foreign invasions during the 109 years starting from the year of 1840 when China was forced to fight the Opium War.

Apparently, China did not colonize others in history not for lack of power. China simply did not have any intention to do so. The pursuit of harmony is deeply rooted in Chinese traditions. More than 2,500 years ago, the great Chinese philosopher Confucius already set the Golden Rule-what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others. Or to put it in a more literal way, do unto others as you would have them do unto you-which has nurtured the mindset of the Chinese people for thousands of years. The concept of harmony is actually a key theme of the Confucian thought. To colonize others is simply against Chinese traditions and values.

So, from a deeper perspective of the Chinese traditional culture, what Zheng He the great navigator did-not to colonize any others though he was able to-was by no means accidental. Quite the opposite, that was inevitable. That's why all through history China never occupied an inch of African land and never put a finger in the slave trade.

Today, China is working hard to build a harmonious society domestically and is in favor of building a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity. The humiliation and insult China once suffered still remain fresh in the memory of all Chinese. It is thus an inevitable choice for China to embark on the road of peaceful development. This is based on China's national conditions, China's historical and cultural tradition, and the trend of development in the present world. This is in the fundamental national interests of China. I see no logic for China to break away from its traditional pursuit of harmony, forget its miserable past, and damage its fundamental national interests to be an unpopular "neocolonialist" in Africa or elsewhere. In no way does China deserve the title of "neocolonialist".

According to some media, China's economic presence in Africa is "detrimental" to Africa. Is that true?

They say that China is now milking African continent of its mineral resources and flooding African markets with its cheap goods. This kind of complaint is not something completely new to China.

In the 1990s, Australia, New Zealand and some Southeast Asian countries once had exactly the same anxieties. But within a decade, these anxieties abated and vanished. Australia and New Zealand are now trying to conclude Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with China at an early date, while Southeast Asian countries and China have agreed to reach FTA arrangements by 2010. Australia's booming exports of natural resources and imports of cheap finished goods have given Australia its most favorable terms of trade since 1970s. The Reserve Bank of Australia estimates that this alone contributes 1-2 percentage points to Australia's GDP growth per year. According to a survey done by Australian Industry Group in 2004, more than two thirds of Australian manufacturers said they were affected by business contacts with China in various ways. But instead of continuing to complain about China, they are focusing their efforts on adapting to China's competition in the following respects. Firstly, they are actively seeking to improve efficiency. Secondly, they are sourcing cheap inputs from China. Thirdly, they are hastening the pace of adopting new technology to partially offset the price competition. And fourthly, they are moving either up or down the value chain. In a word, by boosting close economic cooperation with China, their domestic enterprises have earned more money and improved efficiency and the consumers, especially the poor have benefited a lot from cheap Chinese imports. Experience teaches. I think that the experience of Australia, New Zealand and Southeastern Asian countries deserves our due attention.

China-Africa trade relations need to be discussed from a broader perspective. The expansion of China's economic involvement in Africa coincides with the economic globalization process with its impact felt worldwide. The accelerating pace of globalization has resulted in major global economic structural changes. During this process, China has become the largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) among developing countries since 1990s. Transnational corporations from major powers and neighboring countries have been increasingly moving their labor-intensive industries to China, thus making China a major world workshop. This in turn makes China a major importer of raw materials and exporter of mainly low-end manufactured goods. In 2005, 58.7% of China's imports and 58% of China's exports are done by FDI enterprises in China, which means those transnational corporations benefit more than China does.

Having said this, China's importance as an importer can not be overlooked. In recent years, China has been an important source of growth for the world economy. According to an IMF working paper in 2004, China accounted for about 24% of world growth, using purchasing-power-parity-based GDP. China is a major importer of goods and services, especially from other developing countries. In 2004, China was the third largest market for LDC exports, after the EU15 and the US. In 2005, China was the third largest importer in the world, after the US and Germany. In the years from 1999 to 2004, Africa's exports to China grew 48% on average year by year. Today, China absorbs almost 18% of LDC exports and 10% of African exports. The IMF assessed that China has also contributed to the recent strength in world commodity prices. I do not think that a higher raw material price is a bad thing for resource-rich Africa. As a well-known South African scholar Peter Draper pointed out, China's sustained economic development would underpin African commodities prices, quote, "thus mitigating the age-old problem of the commodity exporter's declining terms of trade. This would support fragile balance of payments positions in the region and alleviate pervasive debt payment problems," unquote.

Economically speaking, China and Africa are highly complementary. It makes good economic sense to make full use of each comparative advantage and enhance win-win economic cooperation. As African countries are moving in the direction of opening up their economies, trade between China and Africa has quadrupled since the beginning of this decade. China is currently Africa's third largest trading partner after the US and France and second largest exporter to Africa after France. In 2005, China-Africa trade volume hit US$39.8 billion, with China's import from Africa totaling US$21.1 billion, more than its export to Africa.

I would not say that the current pattern of China-Africa trade is ideal. It is open to change and it takes some time. As a recent Word Bank report--Africa's Silk Road: China and India's New Economic Frontier-- argues, China and India's commerce with Africa is opening the way for the Sub-Saharan continent to become a processor of commodities and a competitive supplier of labor-intensive goods and services, a major departure from Africa's long established economic relations with the North. China will endeavor to expand economic and trade ties with Africa on the basis of mutual beneficial and win-win cooperation, and I believe Africa will not miss the opportunity to make full use of China's rapid economic development to translate its resource advantage into competition advantage and hasten its own international integration and growth.

Disputes and frictions are rather normal in international trade. China-Africa trade can be no exception. What China favors is to solve trade disputes through friendly consultation and mutual benefit arrangements. That's why China takes the concerns of some African countries on trade deficit and textiles seriously and is working to address these issues. As you may know, China is going to have voluntary restraint on its textile export to South Africa early next year according to the agreement reached by our two governments. This is not fully in line with WTO rules and is not an easy decision for China to make, if I may say so. But China has made the concrete concession in order to accommodate the concerns of our South African brothers and sisters in the textile industry. In the final analysis, however, one should not neglect the fact that in the process of integration into global economy, every country has to face challenges and to make necessary economic structural changes so as to boost competitiveness in global markets.

Then, what if China has no economic presence in Africa at all? Will Africa certainly be better off without China? Sanusha Naidu, a scholar from the Human Science Research Council of South Africa, does not think so. As he points out recently, the legacy of colonialism continues to contribute significantly to the instability and fragility of some African states. Even today, some African countries are still heavily depending on Western countries for markets, economic assistance and development models. China will provide an alternative market, a new source of economic assistance and a new development approach. As China-Africa ties get closer, quote, "for Africa it means less reliance on its former colonial powers in achieving its development goals," unquote.

President Mbeki does not think so, either. In an interview during his visit to London last May, he personally welcomed China's involvement and interest in Africa. He said, and I quote. "It's clear that the Chinese will invest on the African continent in all sorts of ways, in the first instance in raw materials, energy and other things. And that will constitute development for the African continent. It's clear also they are making capital and expertise available for general infrastructure development. In that situation, it becomes possible to say that this cooperation results in our development and that is correct. " End quote.

According to some media, China is "undermining" democracy, human rights and good governance in Africa by doing business with Sudan, Zimbabwe, Angola and some other African countries. Is that reasonable?

Once again, you guess it right what my answer will surely be.

To begin with, China has no intention to undermine Africa's democracy. China is working hard to build a socialist democracy and promote human rights and good governance at home. And China is a responsible major country in the world. I doubt there is any tiny political gain China can get by doing such things against the historical trend and the common wish of the people of all countries.

Furthermore, China's foreign policy is consistent and above board, whereas China's meaningful economic cooperation with those countries is only a recent phenomenon. China has all along been handling state-to-state affairs in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as well as the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the acknowledged norms governing international relations. China sincerely holds the view that all members of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) should be treated equally and fairly. For decades, China has been developing friendly cooperation with all countries in the world, rich or poor, big or small, on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.

Moreover, business is business. To develop trade and economic cooperation and normal relations with one country does not necessarily mean the support of every policy of that country. With every major western power now enjoying strong economic ties with China, I do not think that all of them are happy about every policy of China. And, while making loud noises about some polices of China, none of them is pursuing a policy of disengaging China and stops doing business with China. Not accidentally, those who singled China out for blame actually did not enjoy a glorious history in Africa. It is not difficult to see that there might be a double standard here. By practicing double standard, one always has an axe to grind.

And, to get the problems in some African countries solved by disengagement or even sanction is wishful thinking and naive. Engagement, practical cooperation, tangible assistance and patient dialogue rather than naming and shaming could prove to be more effective in solving problems in Africa. In its own way, China fully supports Africa's strenuous efforts to make this beautiful continent of hope more stable, democratic and prosperous.

Dear Friends,

As a Chinese saying goes, "Distance tests a horse's strength, and time tells a person's sincerity." So much has changed in the world but China and Africa remain good friends, good brothers and good partners, sharing both weal and woe and profound friendship. I am firm in the conviction that no matter how our world may change, the friendly relationship between China and Africa will last and have an ever brighter future.

Thank you.

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