In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte was quoted as saying about China, "Ici repose un géant endormi, laissez le dormir, car quand il s'éveillera, il étonnera le monde" – "here lies a sleeping giant, let him sleep, for when he wakes up, he will shock the world". That prophecy has manifested in our time and today it is all about China,China and China. In the last one month China has hosted the Presidents of South Korea,Vietnam, Nigeria, and in the next few days, the President of Belarus will come calling.
While China is hosting the President of Nigeria and some Nigerian officials are trying to calm ‘American’ nerves that the visit is not to spite the United States, same China was partaking in the 5th China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) which will end today in Washington D.C. And at the same time the Chinese Navy is taking part in its biggest ever joint military exercises with Russia. The military exercise which began from July 5th will end tomorrow.This is the time table of a country that understands that in this game, there is no friend no foe, what matters is interests.
I took part in an online forum last night where some Chinese analysts drawn mostly from the official news agency Xinhua tried to project President Jonathan’s visit will give a boost to the relations between the world's second largest economy and the second biggest economy in Africa.They severally highlighted that both countries share similar goals and challenges, have a partnership that is by nature mutually beneficial, serving the political, economic and diplomatic interests of both sides. China they opined can fund Nigeria's development with low-interest loans, technical assistance, and favorable trade policies.
The hands of Esau, voice of Jacob
China’s economic interest in Africa has been propped up against the backdrop of existing relations with Europe and North America. To access African markets, China has been singing to anyone who wants to hear that it does not have a colonialist past. Nor does it have the intention of pursuing colonialism in Africa. African countries, including Nigeria, can be well assured of Beijing's good will and fair play in their markets, they claim.
But it is not as it seem. China has not lived up to this rhetoric in many ways, it has systematically turned Africa into a dumping ground for substandard goods, unlike Western companies, when Chinese investors come to Africa, they bring their own workers and open the floodgates of cheap goods which has had a negative impact on their host countries.
While Nigeria opens its doors wide to Chinese industrialists to set up factories in Nigeria, Nigerian industrialists are not given same opportunities in China. The last time the Minister of Finance Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala visited Beijing officially, Nigerians there inundated her with complaints of maltreatment and anti competitive acts aimed against them by the Chinese government. She promised government will look into it,but as at the last time I checked with my informant in China, nothing has changed.
If Chinese can come here and be allowed to set up factory and operate here without molestation even with evidence that they are cutting corners, mass producing poor quality goods, and engaging in anti labour and immigration activities, yet they are tolerated. Why should they not let Nigerians do same in China, why the official efforts to stifle Nigerians from carrying out their businesses without fear of molestation. This should even be as important as whatever Mr President and his delegation are tabling before their hosts.
As the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi argued recently,there is no difference between the relationship we have with China and what we had with the colonialists. According to him ‘the Chinese buys Nigeria’s crude oil, in much of Africa, they have set up huge mining operations. They have also built infrastructure. But, with exceptions, they have done so using equipment and labour imported from home, without transferring skills to local communities.So China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. The British went to Africa and India to secure raw materials and markets. Africa is now willingly opening itself up to a new form of imperialism.
China is no longer a fellow under-developed economy – it is the world’s second-biggest, capable of the same forms of exploitation as the west. It is a significant contributor to Africa’s deindustrialisation and underdevelopment he warned.According to Sanusi,for Africa to realise its economic potential, we need to build first-class infrastructure. This should service an afro-centric vision of economic policies. African nations will not develop by selling commodities to Europe, America and China. We may not be able to compete immediately in selling manufactured goods to Europe. But in the short term, with the right infrastructure, we have a huge domestic market. Here, we must see China for what it is: a competitor.
Even Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe noted as much when he said that the Chinese are not missionaries. They have business interests; they have their own national interests, especially when it comes to resources. Many Africans who are extolling this Chinafrique relationship seem not to be aware of some of these issues. They simply have this notion that anything that replaces the west is better than the west.
Summing up, Sanusi highlighted that Africa must recognise that China – like the US, Russia, Britain, Brazil and the rest – is in Africa not for African interests but its own. The romance must be replaced by hard-nosed economic thinking. Engagement must be on terms that allow the Chinese to make money while developing the continent, such as incentives to set up manufacturing on African soil and policies to ensure employment of Africans.
These are issues I hope President Jonathan will seriously table while enjoying his stay in China. Chinacadabra is the name of a game Aso Rock need to learn its rules.