From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
As Nigeria and China mark 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations today, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (retd), has expressed delight over the milestone recorded by both countries.
Gowon, while delivering a goodwill message as a special guest of honour at a forum entitled, “China-Nigeria Relations at 50”, organised by the Centre for China Studies in Abuja, said it was his honour and privilege to have been the Nigerian Head of State at the time both countries established relations.
He recalled with pride and joy, the productive preliminary contacts and engagements from 1966 that preceded the final outcome of the ceremony China and Nigeria are celebrating.
‘It gives me great pleasure and it is a great honour to be invited by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China as Special Guest of Honour on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of establishing and signing of Diplomatic Relations between China and Nigeria on 10th February 1971. It was my honour and privileged to be the Head of State of Nigeria at the time.
‘I recall with pride and joy the productive preliminary contacts and engagements from 1966 that preceded the final outcome of the ceremony we are celebrating today — our bilateral relations in 1971. His Excellency, Yang Qiliang, was China’s first representative in Nigeria, followed by His Excellency, Li Sen Yi. The two countries worked closely together to ensure the success of the new relationship. Not long after Nigeria helped see China’s admission to the United Nations (UN) as both member of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
‘That ultimately earned Nigeria a welcome State visit to Beijing/China in 1974. It was a most successful visit that firmly established the bilateral relationship between our two countries. It included a rare visit to Chairman Mao at his home by the Nigerian delegation led by me, my wife Victoria, the Foreign Minister, Dr Arikpo, the Permanent Secretary and Nigerian first Ambassador to China, His Excellency, Aminu Sanusi. We ended the visit signing a number of agreements, especially in Agriculture, Trade, and Communications etc. Succeeding generations/governments expanded the areas of agreement to what is today,’ Gowon said.
Gowon said his memory of that visit was very different from the subsequent visits to China 20 years later.
‘The change from a near rural look, narrow road filled with bicycles and people in the uniform blue tunic-like dress and the red booklet that guided the life of the Chinese people at the time, to now, a city of skyscrapers, wide express roads, 3-5 star hotels, a total change that beats man’s imagination. It was marvellous to see the change, all worth emulating. I am sure succeeding Nigeria’s envoys and leadership will speak more about their experience to date.
‘I am glad that I had something to do with China-Nigeria relations. I want to congratulate the Chinese leadership, past and present and the good peoples of China for the monumental progress they have made in these fifty years developing from an almost rural economy to the present advance world technological economy and being of great help to all in Africa today,’ Gowon also said.
Gowon further wished the jointly hosting celebrations of 50 years of bilateral and diplomatic relations between China and Nigeria, best wishes, every good luck, fortune and continued success.
‘God bless you all,’ Gowon prayed.
In his keynote speech, the Charge’ d’ Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, Mr Zhao Yong, said that looking back to the past 50 years, the relationship between China and Nigeria have enjoyed a strong development on the basis of mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual support.
Zhao also said the past 50 years have witnessed an increasingly enhanced political trust, especially in 2005, a strategic partnership based on mutual political trust, mutual economic benefits and mutual assistance in international affairs established between the two countries.
‘Both sides cherish their friendship, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and uphold the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. China highly appreciates Nigeria’s commitment to the one-China principle and firmly supports Nigeria to safeguard its national sovereignty, security, and development interests.
‘Over the past 50 years, the mutually beneficial China-Nigeria economic and trade relations have enjoyed a robust development, the scales and areas of cooperation continuously expand, and the modes of cooperation have been diversified. Projects like Abuja-Kaduna railway, Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone, currency swap, satellite launching, and joint marine scientific exploration, are the first of its kind in Africa. In 2019, the trade volume between China and Nigeria reached 19.27 billion US dollars, which was 1900 times that of 1971 when the diplomatic relationship was established. And the bilateral trade growth rate is ranking first among China’s top 40 trading partners in the world. Despite the adverse effects of the COVID-19, the bilateral trade volume from January to October of 2020 increased by 0.7 per cent year on year, which was 14 per cent higher than the trade growth rate between China and Africa as a whole. Nigeria surpassed Angola and South Africa respectively to become China’s second-largest trading partner and largest export market in Africa. At the same time, Nigeria is China’s major investment destination in Africa. The Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone and Lekki Free Trade Zone have attracted a large number of Chinese companies to invest and operate their businesses. The infrastructure projects built jointly by the two countries, such as roads, ports and airport terminals, can be seen everywhere in Nigeria,’ Zhao said.
Zhao also said in the past half a century, the exchanges between China and Nigeria in the areas of culture, health and security have been increasingly dynamic.
‘In 2019, the number of Nigerian students studying in China rose to 6800, which stands first in all African countries. In the common fight against the pandemic, the Chinese government provided three batches of medical aid to and timely shared its experience on epidemic prevention and control with the Nigerian government. The local Chinese are rushing to help their Nigerian brothers and sisters, the total value of materials and funds donated by the local Chinese companies and nationals amounted to three billion naira. The military and security cooperation between the two countries are getting closer and closer. China actively supports Nigeria’s efforts to maintain its national peace, security and stability,’ Zhao also said.
The Chinese envoy further said China was ready to make joint efforts with Nigeria to further strengthen the anti-pandemic cooperation until the pandemic is completely defeated; deepen the Belt and Road cooperation; speed up the construction of key projects so as to help Nigeria accelerate.
‘The process of industrialization; explore the cooperation in the areas of digital economy and green economy; expand military and security cooperation with a view to enhance Nigeria’s capacity of safeguarding national security, and closely coordinate with each other on regional and international affairs to safeguard the common interests of developing countries,’ Zhao stated.
Earlier, the Director, Centre for China Studies, Mr Charles Onunaiju, said the bilateral relations and cooperation between Nigeria and China have grown phenomenally from its humble beginning 50 years ago.
‘Since then, the relations have grown and have in recent times, consolidated in the robust and dynamic bilateral cooperation between the two countries,’ Onunaiju said.