Lin Songtian, the Chinese Ambassador to South Africa answers questions from journalists in Johannesburg. (Photo: People's Daily/Li Zhiwei)
After taking office for over a year, H.E. Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, has finally focused on Africa and recently completed his first official state visit. Unfortunately and regrettably, Tillerson came to Africa not for the purpose of helping African nations realize durable peace and self-sustainable development. Instead, Tillerson came here to warn and influence African nations to remain on high alert over China’s growing influence by its investments and aid throughout the continent, smearing the cooperation that China and Africa have long enjoyed.
We are happy to see that the African governments and its people, including the AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki, Kenyan Foreign Minister Juma, and Djiboutian Foreign Minister Youssouf, have all stepped up to tell the respected US Secretary of State that, today, Africans are mature enough to engage in partnerships on their own volition, and that Africans are wise enough to know who is their true and reliable development partner.
Having worked for a long time on China-Africa relations, and having visited over 30 African countries, I understand fully China’s foreign policy and practices on developing relations with Africa. China has become more popular in Africa not by giving lectures, and trying to teach people what to do and what not to do, but by taking a series of concrete actions to help Africa realize durable peace and self-sustainable development. Therefore, the American smearing China in Africa has obviously chosen the wrong place and subject against the wrong target. It is for this reason that Africans have stepped up let Tillerson know that what he is saying about China simply isn’t true, and in fact, it’s a bit embarrassing.
Africa realizing economic independence with China’s support
The Americans have been voicing concerns over China’s growing influence in Africa with their own ulterior motives.
It is true that China’s influence in Africa is growing daily. It is our strong belief that if you are good to your friends and others, you will receive the same, if not more, from them.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has instructed us that in conducting relations with Africa, we should adhere to the principles of sincerity, practical results, affinity and good faith, and uphold the values of friendship, justice and shared interests. The essence of this instruction is to closely combine China's development and Africa's realization of self-sustainable development, so as to achieve win-win cooperation for common development. As a result, apart from continued deepening friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) mechanism, China has also committed itself to connecting Africa to the Belt and Road initiative to promote policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bond.
I’m very proud of China’s cooperation with Africa. Through our joint efforts, China has for nine consecutive years remained Africa’s largest trading partner, one of the most important investors and sources of tourism. Over 6,500 km of railways, over 6,000 km of highway, 200 plus schools, over 80 sports stadiums, and tens of government office buildings, parliamentary buildings and the AU headquarters along with airports and seaports entirely built by China. And because of China’s contributions, modern telecommunication has benefited all Africans.
It is likely the airports where Secretary Tillerson landed, the highways he traveled on, and the venues he visited such as the AU Headquarters, parliamentary building or the stadium where he delivered a speech, were loaned and built by China, and built by the hands of the Chinese and the African people. We are very happy that the African people never take things for granted. They of course highly appreciate what the Chinese government and people have done for their continent.
Is China’s influence in Africa good or bad? Only the African people have the right to answer that question. Africans know too well that if they are not independent economically, they will never be independent politically. Only by realizing self-sustainable development can Africa truly get rid of external interference and say “NO!” loudly to those who point their fingers.
On one hand, there are those who express their worry about China’s influence in Africa. On the other, they do not want to contribute enough capital to help Africa build infrastructure, still less to encourage its businesses to invest in Africa. In essence, what they really want is to keep Africa they way it was, poor, divided, and controlled by others. What they also worry about is Africa's realization of economic independence with China’s support. What they worry about is a strong Africa that can no longer be ordered around politically.
The Americans are making an excuse for themselves by falsely accusing China of creating a debt crisis in Africa.
It is our strong belief that with its rich natural and human resources, Africa offers enormous development potential. Africa is a promising continent and is a new driving force promoting future world economic development.
It is known to all that to realize self-sustainable development, African countries are facing three bottleneck issues, namely inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel, and a shortage of financial resources. To break those bottlenecks, Africa needs huge investment and financial support from the international community. Whoever helps Africa break through the obstacles is the continent’s rue and reliable partner.
With an aim to help Africa break the three aforementioned issues to accelerate industrialization and agricultural modernization, during the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit in December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China-Africa Ten Major Cooperation Plans with a commitment of $60 billion in financial support over the next three years. This sets a good example by China for the international community to follow. Until now, total direct investment and financing from China to Africa has already exceeded $100 billion.
The Chinese government encourages its businesses to investment in Africa. We support the Chinese financial institutions to provide financial support for Africa’s infrastructure development, industrial parks, special economic zones, and production projects in accordance with the market principle and concept of intensive development. The concept of intensive development means to integrate infrastructure, industry planning and development simultaneously. Railways, roads and other infrastructure are built to promote and drive industry development in surrounding areas, which in turn could sustain new infrastructure, so as to ensure the profitability of the projects and to ensure debt repayment capacity by the receiving countries. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway and its industry parks along the railway supporting each other is an example of the new intensive development concept. Seeing is believing. I encourage American friends to visit Ethiopia and see for themselves before smearing China.
The American friends are worried about Africa's debt crisis on the lips. But they have no willingness to issue loans to support Africa’s development, or to encourage their investors to Africa. As the major investor in the continent, China of course follows closely Africa’s possible debt risks. And we also care about the safety of our investment. That is why we have been very serious with the feasibility study of each and every investment and financing project, making sure that the project is profitable, sustainable, and that the recipient is able to service debt. Giving out free loans without thinking about debt repayment and reasonable profits, any financial institutions in the world will go bankrupt. China is no exception. Two days ago, Kenyan Foreign Minister dismissed the concerns over mounting Chinese loans, saying that, Kenya’s engagement with Beijing serves the country’s interest and adds value to the people. Djiboutian Foreign Minister Youssouf also said that, no country can develop itself without having strong infrastructure. And China is from that perspective, a very good partner. The burden of debt of Djibouti is so far manageable, and the Djiboutian government is not that worried.
Africa needs huge amounts of capital to develop its infrastructure to realize self-sustainable development. China is not a superpower, and cannot take on everything. The American friends are concerned that China is creating a debt crisis in Africa. They say so just to find an excuse for themselves not making financial support to Africa. But fundamentally, what they are worried about is Africa realizing economic independence with China’s support. What they are worried about is to lose control over Africa. It is our sincere hope that the United States as a responsible superpower, could follow China to do the same in Africa and the world, to make its due contribution to truly support Africa’s durable peace and self-sustainable development.
Sino-African cooperation in resources for eradicating poverty
Who are really looting Africa’s resources and exploiting the African people? People with clear eyes can tell the truth.
Some people accuse that China invests in Africa only to loot and exploit its natural resources. This is exactly talking through one’s hat. They forgot to look at themselves in the mirror. As we all know, China is Ethiopia’s largest foreign investor. With double digit growth over the past ten years, today Ethiopia is Africa’s largest textile exporter to the United States. Does Ethiopia export oil or mineral resources? Obviously not. So the American friends are not interested, and of course the Ethiopia could not seek for American investment and loan support. While the Chinese government encourages companies to build their factories in Africa, to help create local jobs, tax revenue, and foreign exchange, some country is busy asking its companies to relocate their overseas factories back home.
China is a new comer in Africa. Africa’s oil and mineral resources have long been explored and exploited, controlled or monopolized by western companies.
Some people are very good at selecting things to remember. They have forgotten that, Nigeria, as the largest crude oil producer in Africa, remains the largest importer of refined oil up to this day. Nigeria’s oil resources is almost entirely controlled and monopolized by western companies. They pump up the crude oil at a very cheap price from Nigeria back to their countries, refine it there, and sell the refined oil back to Nigeria and Africa at a very high price. We don’t know when such unjust and unfair situations to Africa will be addressed.
Chad is another important African oil producer that has long been controlled and monopolized by western companies. They pump up the crude oil, but till now have not refined it locally. To the contrary, at the turn of the new century, a Chinese company won the oil exploitation right of 1 million tons per year. The Chinese company has set up the first oil refinery in Chad to refine all the extracted oil locally, to create jobs for the locals, to add and leave value to the locals, and to help Chad realize national energy security.
Who has been looting Africa’s natural resources and who has been exploiting the African people? Any person with clear mind and basic IQ will have the correct answer.
Who is using Africa for corruption? The peoples of the world all understand.
Some people claim that Chinese development assistance in Africa is fueling government corruption. This is an attempt to use the issue of corruption, a public enemy of all countries, to undermine Sino-Africa multi-lateral relations.
This is my fourth post in Africa. On behalf of my government, I have signed many agreements on bilateral and mutually beneficial projects with many African leaders. I can speak loudly and responsibly that all development assistance from the Chinese government to Africa goes directly to project contractors, a move that ensures maximum efficiency and effectiveness of capital investment. Nor myself as the Chinese Ambassador or any African government official cannot see or touch one cent of the funding.
This is why China is able to deliver many tangible, visible and beneficial projects to the African people with less development assistance coming in to Africa from other developed nations. Today, the infrastructures financed and built by China can be found everywhere across the African continent, including highways, railways, airports, seaports, power plant, hospitals, schools, office buildings, parliamentary buildings, and stadiums.
We are very proud that Chinese development assistance to Africa has not only contributed to Africa’s economic and social development, but also brought convenience to the American friends to visit or invest in Africa.
Some governments have huge budgets from their own parliaments in the name of development assistance to Africa. But regrettably, it is very hard for the African people to see, still less to enjoy the results of their assistance in infrastructure projects such as highways, railways, schools, parliamentary and office buildings or stadiums. The reality is that some countries keep making empty promises and never deliver. These same governments have taken taxpayer dollars, exceeding China’s amount, are still without one visible project in Africa.
What is the true meaning of corruption? Who is using Africa for corruption? The people of the world know the answer.
To fully tap into local labor resources and create jobs in Africa is the inevitable choice for Chinese investors.
Poverty is the common enemy of the African people and by everyone throughout the world. We strongly believe that the right to work, the right to housing, the right to food, the right to medical treatment, and the right to education are basic human rights for all to enjoy. Therefore, to grow the economy and create jobs is the master key needed to solve poverty and a lack of basic rights.
But jobs are created by those who invest in infrastructure and other projects, or from the tourism industry. I’m very proud that after over four decades of reform and opening up, China is now the second largest economy in the world and Africa’s major investor and source of tourists. More and more Chinese companies are setting up their businesses in Africa, bringing with them over 100 billion US dollars of investment, transferring their skills and know-hows to the locals, creating millions of local jobs, and improving the basic human rights of tens of thousands of households in Africa.
The two Chinese projects you have visited today are both invested by the private sector. This is just a small reflection of the Chinese investment on the whole African continent. The Yilida Blanket Manufacturing Plant was invested by a Chinese with just about ten Chinese management personnel and engineers. But it has created 460-560 direct local jobs. The China Mall Group was invested by a Chinese couple in 2003. The Group now has 3 China Malls in three cities, creating over 600 shops, creating over 3000 local jobs and many small and medium business.
Apart from these two, I have also visited some Chinese investment projects such Hisense Plant in Cape Town, which produces TVs and refrigerators. The plant has about 60 Chinese engineers and management personnel, but creates over 700 direct local jobs, and nearly 3000 indirect jobs, making over 200 million US dollars of foreign exchange per year. The Chinese private invested shoe manufacturer Huajian in Ethiopia has created 3000 plus local jobs. Their products are exported to the United States, allowing US consumers to enjoy the cheapest but high quality shoes.
As we understand why the companies from the United States, Japan and Europe have relocated their plants and factories to China, just because the salary of the labors was too high in their own countries. With the cost of production going up, profit goes down. To make bigger profits, they had no choice but to invest in China to benefit from China’s low cost of labors. Unlike the western countries, when the Chinese government encourages businesses to invest in Africa, our goal is not only to tap into Africa’s abundant labour resources, but also to dovetail Chinese and African development industries, so as to help Africa realize self-sustainable development. That is why Africa welcomes and looks forward to Chinese investment.
It is so easy to realize that any investor or politician with an average IQ could understand how important it is to make proper use of low labor costs when investing in Africa, without bringing in their own expensive labor.
In conclusion, to support Africa to realize durable peace and self-sustainable development serves the common interests of the entire continent, China, and the world. It is also the common goal and responsibility of the international community. China is willing to work closely with all countries to uphold the principle of planning together, building together and sharing together, to jointly promote a community of a shared future for mankind as proposed by President Xi Jinping, so as to empower the African people to promote development and share common prosperity with the peoples of the world.
It is our sincere hope that certain superpower could show an updated and broad mind and take concrete steps to honor its commitment and fulfill its due responsibilities. Don’t forget, what Africa needs is capital and actions, not lectures. Don’t forget, Africa is mature and wise enough to understand who is the true and reliable partner for their self-sustainable development. Please, don’t get in self-embarrassment again.
(The author is the Chinese Ambassador to South Africa)