Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
A delegation of China-Africa Business Council revealed last week the talking point in Chinese cities which is inspiring businessmen and companies to make Nigeria a destination for business.
The delegation led by its Vice Chairman, Sun Hongyu said: “Nigeria has the biggest economy and the biggest population in Africa, many Chinese companies are eager to seek opportunities in Nigeria.”China is not alone in the drive for opportunities in Nigeria. Other Asian countries as well as Europe and America are also jostling to have a strong foothold in Nigeria for the same reason.
The most recent of such visits was that of the immediate past prime minister of Britain, Theresa May. She was accompanied by 29 business leaders to “promote the breadth and depth of British expertise in technology, infrastructure and financial and professional services.”
But of all the countries seeking opportunities in Nigeria, China seems to top the chart. The reason is not farfetched. The Chinese business community looks beyond the boundaries of bilateral ties between Beijing and Abuja and play up People-to-People diplomacy to cultivate the friendship and support of Nigerians.
This was exactly the strategy the China-Africa Business Council adopted last week when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigeria-China Friendship Association (NICAF) at a meeting held in Lagos. Under the MoU, the Council will open an agency in Nigeria which will be in charge of its projects.
The Council plans to execute ten projects in Nigeria, starting with the establishment of fridge manufacturing company and another manufacturing company for construction materials such as paint. But what is instructive here is the business acumen of the Chinese. They tacitly circumvent bureaucratic bottlenecks that could delay or frustrate their efforts to penetrate the Nigerian market if they had to pass directly through the officials of both governments.
Of course, the government of China encourages its businessmen and companies to cultivate People-to-People diplomacy, provided they conduct their activities lawfully. Interestingly, the MoU was signed by the office of the China-Africa Business Council located in the country’s Hangzhou city.
According to the delegation, Hangzhou is “an important and very active city to do business abroad,” and “serves as a bridge between Chinese companies and African companies, including Nigerian companies, to help them find win-win business opportunities.”
The Hangzhou office believes that establishing an agency in Nigeria will improve its businesses. What immediately comes to fore is the freedom with which even zonal offices of the Council can establish bilateral relations with foreign organisations.
But more importantly, it shows the degree of competition among Chinese companies and business groups. Result is what Chinese companies push for. Therefore, the business leaders think ahead and are desperate to achieve the goals of their respective companies.
This is the point a member of the delegation and director of the Hangzhou office tried to explain in a chat with Daily Sun on the sideline of the meeting. Xie Qi said after establishing the office, they reached out to the Nigerian embassy and Consulate in China, to seek information on business opportunities in Nigeria.
Besides the issue of Nigeria having the “biggest economy and the biggest population in Africa,”Chinese are encouraged to do business in Nigeria because of the identified similarities between the two countries. Qi was quick to mention October 1 which is the National Day of both countries, adding that the two countries have the largest population and are leaders in their respective regions and they have similar culture.
Qi explained that Nigeria is a developing country that is in the same situation China was in 1985 when the “door” to development was opened. According to him, research has shown that Nigerians are interested in their products. “So, we want to establish our production line in Nigeria to enable the production of good in the country. This will enable us to create jobs and business opportunities that will make China and Nigeria develop and grow side by side.”
Drawing attention to the MoU, he said his office plans to execute two or three projects in Nigeria by the end of December, 2019. He solicited for government’s support in the area of security, tax exemption for a brief period and availability of land and skilled labour.
Qi also noted that Nigeria and China have a long history of friendship which has made Chinese to have confidence in Nigerians. “I have been here for only three days and I’m already feeling as if I am at home (China), he said. Considering Nigeria as the Giant of Africa, Qi may be right.
But the manufacturing of good is not the only area of interest to China-Africa Business Council. Qi said they are also committed to promoting Nigerian films and football. He said they are ready to promote Nigerian films and football teams in China. They intend to have interaction with Nigeria’s film industry as well as football associations.
By extension, Africa has maintained good relations with China for decades. African countries, including Nigeria have stood behind China in most difficult times. Qi spoke a day after it was revealed that former United States President Ronald Reagan once described African delegates to the United Nations as “monkeys.”
But what was the offence of the African delegation. According to newly-unearthed official tapes published in a US magazine, The Atlantic, Reagan made the comment in a 1971 telephone call with then-President Richard Nixon. Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, was angered that African delegates at the UN sided against the US in a vote on the contest between China and Taiwan. African countries voted to recognize China and expel Taiwan.
Reagan, who was a supporter of Taiwan, called the president the following day to express his apparent frustration. He said: “To see those… monkeys from those African countries, damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” , The US National Archives released complete versions of the tape following a court order because “Reagan’s death, in 2004, eliminated the privacy concerns.”
Though Reagan and Nixon have left the stage, successive US governments continue to give subtle support to Taiwan. In July, the US State Department reportedly approved sales of weapons including tanks and Stingers estimated to be worth $2.2 billion to Taiwan, a development that made Beijing to warn that it was ready to go to war over China.
In an angry response, China’s Defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said: “If there are people who dare to try to split Taiwan from the country, China’s military will be ready to go to war to firmly safeguard national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity,” he said.
Interestingly, NICAF was one of the organizations that expressed concern a year ago when reports said Taiwan has opened a diplomatic office in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. NICAF was unequivocal in its condemnation of the act, noting that Taiwan was not an independent country but a part of China.
Certainly, NICAF is a personification of the trust Qi talked about. This was also reflected in the MoU when it said “Nigeria-China Friendship Association also has the same mission which is to improve the cooperation between Nigeria and China.” NICAF has the responsibility of providing the platform that would enable China-Africa Business Council kick off without impediments in Nigeria.
The Chairman of NICAF, Chief Jacob Wood was optimistic that Nigeria will benefit from China-Africa Business Council if allowed to establish an office and production line in the country. “Instead of Nigeria wasting money on Foreign Exchange, the companies will manufacture here and the Federal Government will save money. Also, jobs will be created for many Nigerians and the society will become safe for all,” he said. He was confident that NICAF will facilitate the entry of China-Africa Business Council into Nigeria’s market.
Commenting, a member of the Board of Trustees of NICAF, Professor Bola Akinterinwa explained reason the organization signed the MoU. He said the delegation are “asking for partners who will do whatever is required on the side of Nigeria and if there are, they will be ready to come. It is on that basis we’ve signed the MoU.”
He described the agenda of the delegation as a welcome development as it shows that Nigeria was secured enough for foreign investments. “We are now seeing that the environment of Nigeria is conducive for investment. So, the way others are looking at Nigeria as not being friendly to new investments is not true.
On how the venture will impact on Nigeria, Akinterinwa responded thus: “More often than not, the Chinese have wrongly believed that relationship can be at best on the basis of government-to-government, whereas the relationship is not only better and best at the level of People-to-People. Because, it is the people who are directly affected and they are the people who are directly impacted upon
“So, for us, we are saying there are many things we can do. At the level of People-to-People, we can achieve much. We will bring in the government to provide the environmental infrastructure.” He assured that NICAF will find local entrepreneurs to partner with the Chinese. “On this basis, we will bring in the government, noting that “it must always go from bottom up and not top bottom approach. What we have done today is People-to-People.”
Akinterinwa also reacted to complaints being made against Chinese doing business in Nigeria. “When we talk about bilateral agreement, it tells that there are two parties, when we talk about tripartite agreement, it talks about three parties. But if you have a party that does not have focus that does not reflect its own interest in an agreement, who do you blame. Do you blame the Chinese for your own lapses, of course not?
“I think what is happening is that the Chinese have articulated their objectives very well. We at NICAF are also doing the same, we are talking of mutually benefitting projects. We appreciate the Chinese because they very honest, they tell us what they want and we are also telling them what our interest is.”