From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
On Sunday, February 12, 2017, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, hosted to a lavish reception in his Maitama residence, the Chairman of Slok Group and former Governor of Abia state, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu.
On the sideline of the visit, the Chinese envoy spoke with Daily Sun on the China-Nigeria diplomatic ties, saying that China-Nigeria trade pattern was not different from Nigeria’s trade pattern with other countries; even as he said the China-Nigerian “trade volume is declining very fast.”
How would you describe the visit of Dr. Kalu?
I think China and Nigeria are very good friends. So, we need the media to facilitate the better communication and understanding between the two countries. And Mr. Kalu is not only the publisher of The Sun Newspapers and The New Telegraph, but also has a lot of businesses. And we believe that a better bilateral cooperation is for the benefit of the people. But to bring the benefit to the people, the government shall play the role. And the business leaders, the media; all have a big part, important part to play. So, we are ready to work closer with the Slok Group, The Sun Newspapers and the New Telegraph, other media houses and other businesses in Nigeria.
You are still new in Nigeria. How is your experience so far?
I am enjoying my life here very much. I have been here for five months. China and Nigeria are making great progress in our bilateral relations. The foreign minister of China, when he paid official visit to Nigeria last month, expanded five fronts to promote China-Nigeria cooperation. In a word, what we are now doing is to follow up on the outcomes of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit, the Johannesburg summit in December 2015, and the successful state visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to China last April.
What is the current trade volume between China and Nigeria?
The trade volume was last year a little bit more than $10 billion.
Is it in favour of China or Nigeria?
China-Nigeria trade pattern is not different from Nigeria trade pattern with other countries. We are in some surplus. The trade volume is actually declining very fast. Last year, it was $10.6 billion and the year before, it was around $15 billion and in 2014, it was almost more than $18 billion. So, maybe it is due to the global economic environment, global situation. But the good news is that the Chinese investment to Nigeria is increasing very fast.
Roughly speaking, according to the statistics, one-third of Nigeria’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) last year came from China. And China-Nigeria cooperation has always been a pacesetter in China-Africa cooperation. So, in this field, we think from trade to investment, is a major trend in China-Africa cooperation and we encourage that the two sides can achieve more in the investment.
How important is Nigeria to China?
China values its relationship with Nigeria. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, and it is the most populous country in Africa. China is also the most populous country in the world. In the world, China and Nigeria are both important developing countries in the world. And China believes that true development, good relations with developing countries, Africa in particular, is the foundation of China’s foreign policy. And China and Nigeria relations are beyond the bilateral means.
Is the Chinese government assisting the Nigerian government to get out of recession?
The backdrop of this global situation, this sluggish growth of the world economy, China and Nigeria are both making efforts to make their economy strong. And we see great synergy in the China-Nigeria development strategies and I think the economic cooperation between China and Nigeria is mutually beneficial. So, if we can grow investment, grow trade, I think we are helping each other. And from the Chinese side, we are trying our best to lend some assistance to Nigeria in terms of infrastructure, or agriculture, or industrialization.
The key outcome of President Buhari’s visit to China and the FOCAC, Johannesburg summit, is to carry out practical cooperation plans. We have like 10 cooperation plans between China and Africa and industrialization is the number one, agriculture is the next and infrastructure is the third. And other areas, even on peace and security, we are working very closely on all these areas.
What informed the recent visit of your foreign minister to Nigeria?
The visit of the Chinese foreign minister is of great significance. Since 1991, for 27 years, the Chinese diplomacy has a very fine tradition. Every year, since 1991, the first official visit abroad by the Chinese foreign minister has always been to Africa and Nigeria stands out in this fine tradition. Why? To my knowledge, Nigeria is the only country which has been paid a visit by five consecutive Chinese foreign ministers since 1991.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit last month, was a big boost in bilateral relations and in the word used by my colleagues in the foreign ministry, it was a landmark visit between China and Nigeria. Why? I think, at least, for two key reasons: one, China stands ready to work with Nigeria to elevate the strategic partnership between our two countries in the implementation of the FOCAC summit outcome and President Buhari’s visit to China. We are confident that in bilateral cooperation, we have scored more fruitful results in this year and in the coming years.
Secondly, during his visit here, the two foreign ministers, Wang Yi and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Onyeama, jointly signed a statement on behalf of the two governments. Nigeria reaffirms that the One China Policy is at the core of Nigeria-China strategic partnership and China appreciates Nigeria’s position on this issue. One China Policy is internationally recognized policy and with the One China Policy reaffirmed, a more solid foundation has been made in China-Nigeria practical cooperation.
In this case, where do we place Taiwan?
Taiwan is a province of China. That is one key phrase in the joint statement. Simply put, for the Chinese to keep China one is as important as Nigerians to keep Nigeria one. So, we highly appreciate the administration of President Buhari and the Nigerian government in solving this issue, left over from history.
There are a lot of Nigerians in Chinese prisons. Are there talks between China and Nigeria to have a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) so that they can complete their jail terms here?
I know there are some such isolated cases. And the Chinese side is open to consultation with the Nigerian side on how we can better handle this issue.
What is the current Chinese population in Nigeria?
We don’t have the registration system. According to our assessment, I think there are 40,000; some say there are 50,000 Chinese compatriots here. I got it from the news, even for the Spring Festival, that a lot of Chinese are going back home. And they stay in Guangzhou and other places in China, maybe some similar number of Nigerians are doing business in China.
Have you settled down fully in Nigeria?
Yes. I am already enjoying my life here very much