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‘China firmly supports Nigeria in pursuing development path that suits national conditions’

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Consul General of the People’s Republic of China, Chu Maoming

Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Lagos, Chu Maoming, was very welcoming when The Guardian called at his office last Tuesday to keep an interview appointment with him. The warm reception heralded, almost instantly, discussions about issues in the country bordering mainly on the Nigerian media industry, politics and governance vis-à-vis the Chinese experience before the interview could commence. But when the chat began in earnest, Maoming spoke freely on the Nigeria-China relations, identifying the gains so far while pointing out areas that need to be improved upon. He described Nigeria and China as “major developing countries of great influence in the world,” noting that the two countries could collaborate in different spheres for the benefit of their citizens and the rest of the world. He also addressed the issue of alleged importation of sub-standard goods from China into Nigeria, among others. Excerpts:

Nigeria and China have been enjoying very good relations but there is no doubt it can be improved upon. How do you intend to build on the relationship?
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1971 and strategic partnership in 2005 between China and Nigeria, our relations have maintained a sound momentum of development. During the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit last September, China, and Nigeria signed a governmental Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which promoted the friendship between the two countries to the best period in history.

The year 2019 was the first year that Nigeria formally joined the big family of the BRI. China is ready to work with Nigeria to explore new opportunities for cooperation in various fields. Here, I wish to share some of my observations on how to take China-Nigeria relations to a higher level.

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First, we need to step up strategic coordination and enhance mutual political trust. In September last year, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, Yang Jiechi, paid a visit to Nigeria and was warmly welcomed by His Excellency, President Buhari. We are also glad to see that Mr Tijjani Muhammad-Bande was elected as the president of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. We need to seize these opportunities to strengthen exchanges and cooperation in political affairs, diplomacy, political parties, parliaments, military affairs, judicial affairs, law enforcement, and local governments; and strengthen coordination and cooperation on major international and regional issues as well as issues concerning each other’s core interests and major concerns.

Second, we need to expand practical cooperation. We need to push for steady growth in two-way trade and improve the trade mix. The breadth, depth, and growth of China-Nigeria economic and trade cooperation have surpassed that of any previous period. Now, it’s time to combine our efforts to raise the level and quality of our cooperation. China stands ready to facilitate more imports from Nigeria. We also welcome the Nigerian side to do more promotion of its products and increase its market share in China. We have huge potential for investment cooperation, which is highly complementary, especially in the field of energy, resources, and infrastructure. We need to develop and tap this cooperation potential.

Third, we need to broaden cultural and people-to-people exchanges to deepen our traditional friendship. We need to take into consideration the growing enthusiasm of our people for interactions; encourage friendly exchanges in education, culture, health, science and technology, media and other fields, and increase local people-to-people exchanges to cement the social foundation for China-Nigeria friendship. We need to make full use of the platforms of BRI and FOCAC to increase mutual visits by central and local governments, art troupes and academic groups as well as other exchanges at all levels and in all fields.

A lot of Chinese companies are already operating in Nigeria but there is still enough room for more. What steps do you think the Nigerian government can take to attract more Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) from China?
You should direct this question to the Nigerian government officials. The Chinese government won’t teach or preach any other foreign government on what to do or what not to do. But we would like to share our experiences of success.

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China-Nigeria relations are now at their best in history. Nigeria is an important developed market for Chinese technology, and an increasing number of Chinese industries are relocating to Nigeria in search of wider opportunities to further the BRI, build infrastructure facilities, transfer skills and create jobs.

Since Nigeria is aiming to become a global logistics centre connected to the whole of Africa, it is improving its infrastructure, including power facilities, roads, and railways. And China will surely play an active part in these projects.

The continuous and in-depth development of China-Nigeria economic and trade relations is the common interests of the two peoples. We believe that cooperation will yield win-win results for Nigeria and China.

China was once like Nigeria in terms of development but is now a world power. What lessons do you the Nigerian government can learn from the Chinese experience to enhance growth and development?

Over the last seven decades from 1949, China has achieved great success. China’s per capita GDP has come to $10,000 from less than $100, and the average life expectancy in China has come to 77 from 35. Especially since China started its reform and opening-up in 1978, China’s GDP has averaged an annual growth rate of 9.5 per cent and more than 800 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty.

Beyond that, as the second largest economy, the largest industrial producer and the largest trader of goods in today’s world, China contributed over 30 per cent of the global economic growth over the recent years. Today, China enjoys a harmonious society, a prosperous economy and rapidly advancing science and technology, while the Chinese people enjoy a happy life that they dreamed for generations.

Many friends in Nigeria are intrigued by China’s success story and keep asking why. There are many contributing factors, but I think the following four revelations and inspirations are particularly important.

First, China has always remained committed to the leadership of the CPC. The CPC with 90 million members always upholds a people-centered approach and is committed to building the party for the public, exercising power for the people and serving the people whole-heartedly. The CPC focuses on meeting the aspiration of the people for a better life and has ensured strong political support and long-term social stability for China’s pursuit of rapid development.

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Second, China has always remained committed to socialism with Chinese characteristics. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is a path that best suits China’s national conditions, history, and culture. China did not copy the development model of other countries but fully mobilised the strength and creativity of the Chinese people to become both the contributors and beneficiary of China’s national development for common prosperity.

Third, China has always remained committed to economic development as its central task. It is our strong belief that poverty is the only enemy in China and the world. Our paramount historical mission is to develop the economy, improve people’s livelihood and bring a better life to all the people. Over the past 40 years, the CPC has always upheld development as the number one priority of governance and has fully concentrated on development, accomplishing a miracle in the world history of poverty reduction.

Fourth, China has always remained committed to peaceful development. China attaches great importance to peace and harmony and has always earnestly pursued peaceful development and independent foreign policy of peace. China relied on fulfilling its own responsibility in good times and in adversity without exporting or shifting problems elsewhere, and without seeking development by trading under coercion or exploiting other countries.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that both China and Nigeria are major developing countries of great influence in the world. We firmly support Nigeria in pursuing a development path that suits Nigeria’s national conditions. And we have every confidence that under the able leadership of President Buhari, Nigeria will achieve even greater success in its national development. We stand ready to work with Nigeria to achieve its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), and elevate the strategic partnership between China and Nigeria to a new level.

How did the Chinese government get the people’s buy-in during its transformative era?
Recently, the fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC was successfully held in Beijing. The meeting reviewed and adopted the CPC Central Committee’s decision on some major issues and how to uphold and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and advance the modernisation of China’s system and capacity for governance.

This was a strategic meeting convened by the CPC when the world was experiencing profound changes unseen in a century and China’s development had entered a crucial stage. The meeting offered Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind again, and the answer to your question could also be found.

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The key for the Chinese government always winning the hearts and minds of its people is that we firmly stay committed to the people-centered development philosophy and development system, and ensure that the fruits of development are shared by all.

The seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China have witnessed the Chinese people’s ever-growing sense of gain, happiness, and security. China has basically put in place the world’s largest education, social security, health care and grassroots democracy systems that cover the biggest population and realised that the young can be nurtured and educated; can the workers be paid; the sick can be treated; the old can be cared for; the vulnerable can be supported and everyone can have a decent place to live in. What needs to be mentioned is that we have lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty and contributed more than 70 per cent of global poverty reduction.

By the end of 2020, we will have completed the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects lifted all 1.4 billion people out of poverty with no one left behind, which will be the largest scale poverty alleviation in the development history of human society. President Xi Jinping also proposed that “clear waters and green mountains are as precious as gold and silver” and made ecological conservation a basic state policy.

Going forward, we will continue to stay committed to the people-centered philosophy, and give full play to our notable strength in ensuring and improving people’s livelihood, enhancing people’s well being and striving for common prosperity. We will establish and improve the systems concerning ensuring people’s livelihood, basic national public services, high-quality employment, social security, addressing the relative poverty and ecological environment protection so as to ensure that the people are masters of the country, meet people’s increasing need for a better life and make all people share the fruits of reform and development.

Some Nigerian businessmen are notorious for approaching manufacturing companies in China to produce sub-standard goods for them, which they import into Nigeria. How can you relate with the regulatory/monitoring agencies in your country to discourage this trend?
I’m not aware of the specific case you mentioned. As we all know, China exports quality and affordable goods to the world, which makes China the largest trading partner of more than 120 countries and regions and the fastest-growing major export market. Meanwhile, China attaches great importance to and actively promotes cooperation with countries around the world in combating counterfeit products.

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Having established a full-fledged legal system as well as a unified and efficient law enforcement mechanism, China severely fights against illegal acts of producing and selling counterfeit goods that infringe intellectual property rights through domestic and international cooperation, with a view to maintaining the order of import and export and safeguarding the sustained and sound development of China’s foreign trade.

The BRI is a global strategy adopted by the Chinese government for infrastructure development across the world. What can Nigeria do to benefit more from the initiative?

The BRI is an international economic cooperation initiative proposed in 2013 by Chinese President, Xi Jinping, whose core value is enhancing all-round connectivity through infrastructure construction. It aims to explore new driving force for the world economic growth and to build a new platform for world economic cooperation.

Since its inception about six years ago, the BRI has received strong endorsement and warm support of the international community. Nowadays, more than 150 countries and international organisations have signed agreements on BRI with China. A large number of cooperation projects have been launched and a general connectivity framework has been put in place.

We are happy to witness that the African Union and 39 African countries have already signed documents on BRI cooperation with China. We stand ready to strengthen comprehensive cooperation with the African countries in jointly building the BRI to share the win-win outcomes, especially with Nigeria, the biggest developing country and the largest economy in Africa.

As I mentioned before, China and Nigeria signed a governmental MoU on BRI last September during the FOCAC Beijing Summit, which was witnessed by His Excellency, President Xi Jinping and President Muhammadu Buhari. Last April, the honourable Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed and the honourable Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, attended the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which built a sound foundation for the next phases.

The year 2019 was the first year that Nigeria formally joined the big family of the BRI. We firmly believe that joint construction on BRI between China and Nigeria will certainly bring greater benefits to our two countries and peoples.

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First, it provides us with the opportunity to step up the connectivity of infrastructure. After the successful construction of the Abuja-Kaduna railway, the Abuja rail mass transit project and the terminal of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, in 2019, the Lagos-Ibadan railway was put into operation and the construction of the Lekki deep water port, the largest port in West Africa, as well as the Zungeru hydropower station, the largest hydropower station in Nigeria, are well under way. Tens of thousands of jobs have been created for Nigerians by projects contracted by Chinese enterprises or partly financed by the Chinese side.

Second, it provides us with the opportunity to strengthen financial integration. Since the financial bottleneck often proves to be a major challenge, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund have been established to complement organisations such as the World Bank and help narrow the funding gap. China’s policy of encouraging financial cooperation is also conducive to the Nigerian financial services sector.

Third, it provides us with an opportunity to promote unimpeded trade. With the successful cooperation between China and Nigeria under the frame of BRI, more and more Chinese come to Nigeria for investment and trade. The bilateral trade reached $15.41 billion from January to October 2019 with 28.1 per cent year-on-year growth. Now, China is still Nigeria’s largest source of imports and second-largest trading partner, and we also stand ready to facilitate more imports from Nigeria.

Fourth, it provides us with an opportunity to enhance policy coordination. Based on the prominent achievements China and Nigeria acquired in infrastructure as well as the production of capacity and investment cooperation, enhancing policy coordination is of greater importance. It’s time for us to have full discussions on policies, adopt plans and measures for advancing bilateral cooperation through consultation in the spirit of seeking common ground while setting aside differences, and give the policy legal “green light” to bilateral cooperation through BRI.

Fifth, it provides us with an opportunity to achieve closer people-to-people ties. In recent years, China-Nigeria cultural exchanges have been in continuous expansion, and mutual understanding between the two peoples has been enhanced. China has increased its government scholarships, expanded programmes of personnel training, thus offering more opportunities to invest and travel in Nigeria and the Nigerian people to study and be trained in China.

You attended the BRICS Summit, which held in Brazil recently. What was your take away from the summit for a country like Nigeria?
I didn’t attend the BRICS Summit in person but I still would like to share some of my viewpoints about the summit.

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We are meeting at a time when crucial developments are taking place in the world economy and the international landscape. A bourgeoning round of technological revolution and industrial transformation has created more opportunities for countries across the globe to achieve leapfrog development.

Meanwhile, the unstoppable rise of emerging markets and developing countries has injected strong impetus to the reform of the global economic governance system. Nevertheless, there are also causes for concern: rising protectionism and unilateralism, a greater deficit of governance, development, and trust, and growing uncertainties and destabilising factors in the world economy. Under this background, the summit turned out to be a complete success with the theme ‘Economic Growth for an Innovative Future’.

To summarise, there are four clear and positive messages of significance to global peace and development. First, support to multilateralism. Second, opposition to protectionism. Third, objection to foreign intervention. Fourth, greater solidarity and cooperation with BRICS. More detailed information about these four outcomes could be found in my article, ‘BRICS Summit Positive to Global Peace and Development’, which was published in many Nigerian newspapers.

Just as President Xi Jinping said during the Summit, we can leverage “BRICS PLUS” cooperation as a platform to increase dialogue with other countries and civilisations and win BRICS more friends and partners. China always attaches great importance to the South-South cooperation, especially the cooperation with Nigeria, the largest and most populous country in Africa. China will play a full part to form open world economy and open its door wider to Nigeria.

China and Nigeria are both influential members of their continent. Both are active participants, important contributors and firm defenders of the international economic governance system. We are happy to witness that China-Nigeria cooperation has been a pace-setter for South-South cooperation. In this era of economic globalisation, China and Nigeria can work together to oppose unilateralism and protectionism, uphold the world economic order and the multilateral trade regime, safeguard the common interests of all mankind, promote global prosperity and stability and deliver more benefits to the people of China, Nigeria and the rest of the world.

Finally sir, how do you intend to encourage Chinese companies operating in Nigeria to improve on their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in the country?
In recent years, the Chinese government takes CSR very seriously. Under the advocacy and guidance of the government, Chinese companies have placed increasing emphasis on CSR as they go global thus: First, participate in public welfare activities to improve the livelihood of local people. Overseas Chinese companies have helped local communities to improve backward infrastructural, medical and educational conditions as their ability permits, so as to enable local people of the host countries to benefit from the overseas operation of Chinese companies.

Second, pay close attention to resource conservation and environmental protection. Through scientific designing, good construction and effective management, Chinese companies operating abroad work hard to save energy, cut emissions and minimise pollution and environmental damage caused by relevant projects.

Third, protect the rights of employees and foster local talents. Overseas Chinese companies always apply the principle of “equal work, equal pay” and have fostered a large number of management professionals and technical workers.

Fourth, localise operation and seek common development. Chinese companies operating abroad have expanded converging interests with the host countries through local procurement, partnership and hiring.

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