From Ikenna Emewu in Beijing
The afternoon of Tuesday, first day of March, was a day to remember for the African journalists who had arrived Beijing, China a few days ago for a 10-month China/Africa media exchange programme.
The journalists are the 2016 participants at the China Public Diplomacy Association Journalism Fellowship, one of the platforms for the actualisation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) established about five years ago.
Due to delayed arrival of some fellows, the inauguration of the fellowship was delayed till Monday when it finally held at the School of Journalism and Communication at the prestigious Renmin University of China (RUC), Beijing, reputed to be the best Journalism institute in China.The ceremony was conducted by four professors of the university and officials of the International office of the RUC. That was followed immediately by a lecture by Prof. Wang Yiwei on the history of China, its 5, 000 years history in political evolution and what he called the similarity with African nations, including what the two entities need to learn from each other in development.
The Fellowship would include extensive interviews, travels, visits to political, economic and cultural leaders and functions and other elite class players. Those are in addition to the tutorials at the university and practical ideas, tools and experiences in modern day journalism.
Creating lasting friendship
At the China Africa Press Centre (CAPC), the direct office that runs the media exchange fellowship, the slogan everywhere is Creating lasting friendship. The office is located at the Chaoyang Diplomatic quarters of Beijing, a highbrow area at the centre of the powerful city of about 23m people.
The Jianguomenwai Diplomatic Residence, just off the 24-hour busy and large Chang’an and 2nd Ring Road highways boasts of the top most class of Beijing resident and with also the highest state and racial diversity. The quarters with high-rise structures of at least 15 floors with over 15 of such tall buildings is where almost every diplomat in Beijing lives. Also several annex offices of foreign missions and inter-governmental agencies are located there. The adjoining streets are embassies of countries linked to each other by walls, and overlooking them at the skyline to the east, not very far down the Central Business District, is the high tower of the China Central Television (CCTV) housed in what our tour guide simply described as the ‘odd building.’ The CCTV tower is a unique architecture and what Beijingians call the Big Trouser. It is like the symbol of journalism excellence in China, and a face and propaganda symbol of China. It is s state owned broadcast media that is like the response of China to UKs BBC and US CNN.
It is within the precinct of this diplomatic village that the fellows live each in a large apartment and some high up in the sky at the 15th floor. Living here brings the fellows close to diplomatic treat, a kind of pleasure the journalist, no matter how highly placed, is not known for. While he reports and hobnobs with the powerful, the media practitioner is known all over the world as those that would not live above the average or opulent life. But here, CPDA brings journalists close to the powerful personalities they report everyday in the same vicinity.
With staggering affluence and wealth written all over the place, China, a struggling nation that faced famine and mass death in the 1950s, just a few years after the Peoples Revolution in 1949, has hit the highways of wealth and economic growth. China feels it has covered the necessary grounds and according to Prof. Yiwei, “a nation that grew on its own in the past 5, 000 years, developed within itself at the bank of the Yellow River (Yantze) that took its source in China and mouth at the South China Sea, still within China, feels it has grown enough to think of international friendship. And Africa is a good candidate for that friendship because Africans are our closest allies. We both suffered intrusions in our culture and western influence that that threatened our identities. Now we have come this far, we need to share our experiences with Africa, and possibly that would be a lesson to them to look inwards like we did and get things done by themselves for the continent.”
China, almost the largest nation in the world by landmass, in addition to its indisputable largest population, is more than a nation, but a continent strictly speaking. The population of China is like that of Africa, plus the USA. It was in 2001 that China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) the trading institution of the UN. By world records, China is the second largest economic pool by GDP and about 84th in per capita income for obvious reasons of its large population.
With all the wealth and expansive land, China says it is pressed for space, as 90 percent of the people live on 10 percent of the land space towards the east of the country with the largest cities and the rest 10 percent of the population live on the remaining 90 percent landmass to the west that is mainly mountainous.
Funny enough, China, by UN and World Bank rating, is not a developed world with its large economic pool, largest manufacturing outfits and seaports in Shanghai. Its per capita GDP is low and therefore China is not a member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
It is only countries with large per capita GDP that are admitted into the elite body by the IMF and rated as capital exporting economies. Until a state joins the OECD and assumes international donor status, World Bank doesn’t rate it as developed. China’s neighbor, South Korea, as the 12th richest nation per capita, is an OECD member even when China has far larger pool of wealth in gross. But on its own efforts, China exports capital as much as any OECD member state.
Lately, Beijing started championing the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with huge capital base and 57 member states, with South Africa as the only African member. Experts view AIIB as Beijing’s response and diplomatic audacity to wrestle with the Bretton Woods Institutions that control and manipulate heartlessly the world economy from the streets of New York. One of the firming up tactics has been the redenomination of the Chinese Yuan from a very low value compared to the US dollar to 6.3 Yuan to a dollar. Of course it is understandable with China’s alarming $3trillion in foreign reserves, the world’s highest, in the hands of New York.
China thinks it has come of age and would not feel wise to leave its huge pool of wealth lubricating the economy of a nation that sees it as minion. The race therefore hots up for China to assert its place in the world stage, therefore the need for friendship and to make the world understand them and not see them anymore from the regurgitated propaganda of another nation. China, you would be right to say, wants to take its destiny in its hands and run its own stunt the much it can.
Good to go
After considering its capabilities built just over few years and with facts of where it is coming from – from strictly insular nation to an open one and riding the storm and crest of world economic waves to come to the top, China has so many reasons to open wider its gates. Indeed, it is opening up that has actually opened up China.
Between 2001, when it had gathered enough momentum to join the world trading platform, and 2009, China had excelled as the largest GDP holder based on imports and exports. Whereas US and Japan had 25 per cent of the GDP as exports and imports, China’s stood at 60 per cent and the largest holder of US Treasury Bonds of a volume of $801.5billion.
Another tip to what China has reaped is its Coca Cola investment gains. Coca Cola that left China in 1927 returned in 1979 after Deng Xiaoping had started opening the space to the outer world. But about three years ago, Coca Cola had invested about $3.3b in its 36 plants in China, and from being alien to Coca Cola, it is today the third largest consumer after US and Mexico.
But what marks out China till date and would sustain its economic growth longer is its regimented openness. Private sector investment between early 80s and 2010 grew by over 500 per cent, but the 50 most strategic firms in China by its policy considerations are state owned and 20 of them occupy the top list of profitability. Till date, the telecommunications, oil, construction and the media are strictly owned by the state. This has always provided safeguard for the nation as experienced in the elasticity and flexibility with which it recovered from the economic meltdown of 2008 just in months after extending from government coffers a bailout of about $600billion to stabilise affected sectors. Possibly learning from the demerits of over liberalisation in the western economies, China holds to regimented and cautious pro market system of openness. It is open to the extent of sustaining rapid growth but has not let it roll out of control to tip at the edge of the pit.
For sure, China is tight, feels secure, wants to reach the world more than it has done and its slogan for the fellowship is that Africa should learn from its pitfalls, the impetus that enabled it bounce back and possibly apply same to pasture itself out economic stagnation of today.