Reply to the Washington Post' Questions On the Relations of China-Africa
2009/10/29

(Professor Liu Hongwu is the director of Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University)

Washington Post: Is China primarily interested in Africa for trade for Africa's raw materials and minerals, or is there also opportunity for investment in the continent?

Professor Liu Hongwu:

Thank you for your questions. First of all, I think if the West wants to understand Sino-African relations, its nature, contents and influences, it should treat China and Africa by adopting an attitude based on equality and mutual respect, rather than assuming the idea of moral superiority by seeing itself as the incarnation of justice, equality, democracy and freedom. The West should not always act as teachers or judges, viewing itself eligible for criticizing others at its will. In the past three decades, China has conducted serious research on and learned from the West, and has come to understand the West, both its past and its present. However, after the end of the Cold War, the West has ignored the possibility of development for the East. Generally speaking, the contemporary West understands neither the past nor the present of China, hence it is hard for the West to avoid the worries and anxieties about the direction of China’s future development and Sino-African relations. So the best option would be for the West to get down to seriously study China and understand China. In the past three decades, hundreds of millions of Chinese have been studying and trying to command English, and around one million Chinese have studied in the West. However, very few in the West are learning Chinese and even fewer come to study in China. If the West doesn’t understand China in the first place, how could it correctly understand and evaluate Sino-African relations?

The contemporary Sino-African relations have been more than half a century. China’s appearance in Africa is not a new phenomenon. Sino-African cooperative relations have been developing progressively in the past fifty years, China has always attached great importance to Africa. As a matter of fact, it was the West which had ignored Sino-African relations for many years and became interested in Sino-African relations in recent years. Therefore, the West should rather ask itself, why is it abruptly interested in Sino-African relations now ?

China’s economic relations with African countries have many aspects. Resources and minerals are a part, but not all of it. China has cooperated with African countries not only in natural resources, primary products and mineral resources, it has also cooperated with African countries in agriculture, medicine, education, infrastructure construction, human resources development, investment and trade. Africa has abundant natural resources, minerals, primary products, these are Africa’s advantages and Africa should develop and use its own advantages in resources. Currently, emerging economies including China, India, Brazil and Southeast Asian countries have a growing demand for Africa’s resources, Africa’s resources are becoming more and more important and valuable. It is an opportunity for African countries and African countries are entitled to the right of exploiting the opportunity. When I was visiting Zambia, Ethiopia and Ghana last month, some African scholars and government officials expressed the opinion that the opportunity brought about by China’s development might be the last opportunity for Africa to grasp. Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs of Ghana, IEA, Dr. Charles Mensa told me that Africa has to catch the tail of the huge dragon of China this time, because when China takes off, Africa will also be lifted.

China’s import of Africa’s natural resources and mineral products is the normal trade in the world economic system in an era of globalization. The West should not politicize it. The contemporary world economy is interconnected and the Chinese economy is integrated with the world economy. China is now the main power driving the growth of the world economy, and the world needs China, the sustained stable and fast development of its economy, to overcome the economic crisis. To develop its economy, China has to conduct economic cooperation globally, including cooperation in the field of resources with Africa. China’s development and use of Africa’s resources contributes to the revival and development of the entire world economy which includes that of the West. In fact, the West has always been using Africa’s resources, and in the past thirty years, the West has been using China’s resources and development opportunities (Chinese labor, primary products, low-cost labor services and products) as well. The truth is today’s China is still a resource-exporting country in many respects.

China sees many opportunities in Africa, not only opportunities of resources, but also wide-ranging investment opportunities. Currently, China attaches great attention to Africa’s resources, but in the long run, it would attach more attention to expanding investment and seeking more investment opportunities in Africa. Africa is still economically backward and need to create environment and conditions for attracting investment, resource development and attracting investment in Africa should be combined. That is why China has been joining forces with African countries to establish a batch of industrial zones, economic cooperation zones and investment manufacturing zones, in the hope of using investment to upgrade Sino-African cooperation. For example, China is not only developing copper resources in Zambia , it has also established an economic cooperation zone. Up to now, about a dozen enterprises with a combined contractural value of more than USD 800 million have settled in the zone. Copper metallurgical and manufacturing factories have been set up in the cooperation zone.

Washington Post: Western countries with long experience in Africa have complained about corruption, and some have begun linking aid to more transparency, accountability and better governance. China has traditionally believed in non-interference in other countries' affairs. Can China continue to follow that path as it gets more involved in Africa?

Professor Liu Hongwu:

The contemporary political and economic development of African countries has been a difficult process, and the problems facing them are very complicated. In the process of boosting Africa’s development, China and the West should work together and exploit each other’s advantages to help and support African countries in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The international community should do concrete things for Africa. But China believes that the international community should not simply impose its ideas and systems on Africa, or criticize Africa at its will. There is corruption in African countries and in same countries it hinders Sino-African cooperation and is not conducive to the development of Chinese enterprises. But the causes of corruption in Africa are complicated and the problem should be solved by Africans themselves. The prescription of the West may not be useful. Africa had been colonies of the West, the West controlled and dominated Africa for over a hundred years, if the systems designed by the West befit Africa, Africa should have developed long ago.

China’s non-interference policy has been persistent and definite, and it will not change in the future. The reason that China sticks to non-interference in Africa’s internal affairs is because China respects Africa and its sovereignty, and it believes that African issues have to be decided by Africans themselves. As a matter of fact, this policy has been the basis of China’s foreign policies. China adopts this policy not only toward Africa, but also towards other parts of the world.

There is one point which needs to be clarified: although China will not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs, it has always been paying attention to African issues and its peace, development and security problems. China supports the active participation in Africa’s peace and security issues within the UN framework by following basic principles of international relations and on the basis of equality. China has dispatched UN-authorized peacekeeping missions and military observers to seven African countries. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has contributed the most peacekeepers to Africa. For example, China has been trying to persuade the Sudanese government to cooperate with the international community, to accept the hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping mission, while at the same time, China believes that the international community should respect Sudan’s sovereignty and cooperate with the Sudanese government.

Washington Post: Does China see corruption as a big problem in some African countries?

Professor Liu Hongwu:

China believes that there are serious corruption problems in some African countries, as is the case in many other countries of the world. Many corruption and internal trade problems also exist in China, the Wall Street, US arms dealers and US politics. Actually, no one could deny the damage inflicted on the world by the financial crisis which was induced by corruption in the Wall Street and its system defects, a damage far more worse to the world than any corruption of a given African government. Anti-corruption is a common challenge to the peoples of the world, the international community could explore approaches of cooperation in anti-corruption, but African countries should not be the only countries picked out for criticisms.

Washington Post: There has been some criticism that China ignores human rights concerns when doing business dealings with African countries, like the situation in Darfur or more recently in Guinea. What would be your response to those criticisms?

Professor Liu Hongwu:

First, the logic of the question seems to be problematic by linking two unrelated matters forcedly. The Darfur issue has been a long-existing regional problem of contradictions in Sudan’s domestic politics, its root causes are the stretched un-development of the local economy, plus ecological disasters such as the drought worsening by the day and famine. The birth of the Darfur issue has nothing to do with China, nor does it have any direct relation with China’s economic and trade ties with Sudan. China’s economic relations with the Sudanese government and the Guinean government, the trade and investment thereof, are no different from China’s trade with and investment in any other African country, nor is it different from Western countries’ trade with and investment in Africa. As a matter of fact, there are many other countries who have trade and investment in Sudan and Guinea.

Second, many regional conflicts and humanitarian woes in Africa result from natural and human-induced calamities, the root causes are economic backwardness, poverty and severe famine. Therefore, the ultimate solution to Africa’s conflicts and crises would be to accelerate the economic development of African countries. Just as Deng Xiaoping put it, “Development is the Hard Truth.” The international community should help African countries to lift their capabilities and will of developing their economies. Only when a country enjoys economic development gradually, could its government adopt relatively moderate policies catering to backward regions and groups, and have the will and capability to improve the economic situation of the backward regions in the country, to overcome and solve regional conflicts and have the will to cooperate with the international community. In recent years, China’s economic cooperation with Sudan, including that in the energy field, has significantly improved this country’s economic status, in the mean time, China has been trying its best to help the economic development of the Darfur region by drilling water cellars, building roads and hospitals and dispatching peacekeepers.

Washington Post: We saw this week the Chinese Navy having to go to the rescue of a Chinese ship captured by pirates near Somalia. Is this a danger now for China, that it's military may have to get more involved in conflict areas to protect Chinese interests in unstable or dangerous places?

Professor Liu Hongwu:

This question is interesting. In fact, we have seen today what danger and damage could an African country as small as Somalia bring on the world as a result of economic collapse, state breaking down and people falling into extreme poverty in the past twenty years. The international community should really wake up from the danger and damage caused by Somali pirates, and should no longer do nothing about Africa’s development issues. Because, in this globalization era, the economic prosperity and development of a country might benefit the surrounding countries and bring benefits to the whole world, while the bankruptcy and collapse of it, with its people fallen into a long-lasting state of poverty and war would sooner or later bring trouble or even disaster to the world. The international community should pay more attention to Africa’s development issues, especially development issues in the Horn of Afica, to bring the peace and development era to Somalia sooner. This is the way to tackling the root causes.

Today, for the interests of itself and that of the international community, China has, under the framework of relevant UN resolutions, taken part in escorting missions involving different countries in the Indian Ocean. This is the consensus of the UN and the international community, and it’s not a disputable issue. It signifies that China is a responsible country and is doing its part in maintaining world and regional peace and boosting human development. China work in this cause is conducive to the interests of both China and the world, and event that of the West. In the future, China will abide by the basic principles of international relations and UN resolutions, and will more actively get involved in international conflicts zones and maintaining peace and development in the world.

Washington Post: Can China serve as a development model for Africa? What lessons in development can China's experience offer African countries?

Professor Liu Hongwu:

As a matter of fact, from the experiences and lessons it learned in the past several decades, China has gained such a basic understanding that a country’s development and a nation’s progress, to speak in fundamental terms, can only depend on its own efforts and its own search for development path. China should open itself to the world and learn experiences and systems in other countries, but definitely should not copy others’ models, neither should it blindly believe in any given theory. The international community should help Africa, but it should not forcefully impose its own systems or ideas on Africa, be they Western or Chinese.

If China has any model or experiences which might be for Africa’s reference, the core contents of the model or experiences are: To commence everything from facts, from the conditions of a given country; to stick to the independent and self-reliant development path with own efforts, while at the same time open to the world and learn and take example from all valuable thoughts, wisdom and advanced systems of the human race. Be it from the East or the West, be it from Africa or Asia, as long as it is beneficial to the development of the country, it should be absorbed and accommodated and be comprehensively used in line with conditions of the country, thus realizing the indigenized development and independent development policies in the process of opening-up. This will be the basic principles of Sino-African relations in the future.

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