By Ikenna Emewu
Tsai Ing-wei, Taiwanese president stirred the diplomatic nest on about December 3 when she put a call across to then US president-elect, Donald Trump.
It was not the ordinary call to congratulate a leader that just won an election, as the White House of USA three days later had to disown Trump and appease the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for the diplomatic gaffe, and explained to China that the call was not representative of the official position of US on the Sino-US diplomatic relationship.
There was good reason for that drama and those in the diplomatic circles know that it was real serious business and found a way of patching it up, applying the necessary niceties. The serious reason is that as per accession to international sovereignty, China or the PRC is the state known to the world diplomatic circles and every international relationship with Taiwan is through China and any breach of this rule is viewed by China as serious affront to her sovereign status.
The polarity between China and Taiwan, all in the PRC is a long history, dating back to the 40s. The two form a loose federation or confederation – operating different political systems and remaining in the same political and sovereign umbrella and with no option of separation. It is called One China, Two Systems in the Chinese political dictionary. With the prevailing system, China mainland as tagged, Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong are all part of the PRC but operate different and varied political systems and still come together in the first week of March every year in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People to deliberate and chart a political agenda for the entire China.
Having studied and practised journalism in China for a year and got firsthand knowledge of the political system and how seriously the Taiwan-China matter is viewed, many were pleasantly surprised a day after the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi to Nigeria that our country kept a ‘diplomatic tie’ with China and Taiwan at the same time. One would not have believed this it was heard from another country that Nigeria kept the two relationships and that of China since February 1972. February last year was 45 years anniversary of the relationship.
But the news made sense to me why the diplomatic accord of China and our dear country never had as much impact as it should. In the first week of May last year in Beijing at the former guest house of Sun Yat Sen and his wife, then as China’s president, the senior diplomat, Zhou Pingtian hosted eight Nigerian journalists, six visiting and two of us based in Beijing. Daily Sun asked him all manner of questions and accused that China was somehow not so warm to Nigeria diplomatically. We never knew he would soon be assigned the ambassador to Nigeria. Today, he is the man in charge of the Chinese mission in Nigeria. We concede to him that he took on the questions so well and with precision even as reported in the Daily Sun later.
Today, we make sense of that seeming coldness with the finding that Nigeria was keeping a friendship China didn’t take kindly to. And in fairness, we defer to China for condoning Nigeria in a situation they never compromised before, a sign that diplomacy rules could be made very flexible, depending on interest while the parties work on fine-tuning with time.
Right now, the outcome of cutting ‘diplomatic ties’ with Taiwan will for all times be the highpoint of the diplomatic shuttle of FM Wang to Nigeria. Daily Sun had missed the opportunity of asking him the question on the cold relationship with Nigeria during his briefing at the Two Sessions last March.
The pains of this below average recognition of Nigeria by China so to speak gave rise to many questions why the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) though liberal enough in relating with African state members never accords Nigeria that prime status it deserves and occupies in African diplomacy. But in fairness, Ambassador Zhou that day in May last year in Beijing, before becoming the ambassador, still defended convincingly that all was well with the two with instances. But something was not so right with the emphasis China made to smaller countries in Africa and their prominence in China’s economic agenda in Africa.
China is world economic mega force and heaviest spender in world Foreign Direct Investment and assistances today. But its presence in Nigeria has been below par.
And from the aspect of investment, the first consideration of the investor is availability of market and no country in Africa is a larger market than Nigeria. That implies the country should be China’s prime choice in offshore investment. Instead, most of the Chinese firms have offices in South Africa and East African countries and relying on Nigerian market as hunting ground.
China’s investment in Africa makes about 45% of the total foreign direct investment in the continent with a volume of about $210b as against that of US of about $90b in 2015. Within this framework, in 2016, of the total FDI into Africa, South Africa grossed 17% as the highest and closely followed by Kenya with 12%, and Nigeria was just insignificant with the burden of poor infrastructure and over reliance on oil and little or mere lip service to industrialisation.
In July, between 28 and 29, Daily Sun watched several African countries sign MoUs in about 60 deeds in Beijing for the FOCAC Johannesburg evaluation meeting. Of these, there was no Nigerian deal in the windfall from the $60b fund endowed by President Xi Jinping in the 2015 FOCAC summit in South Africa. We had intended to ask the leader of the Nigerian delegation to that meeting, Senator Udo Udoma, National Planning Minister why, when we could not find him anymore. We got information that he had left China. This fund is dedicated to aiding Africa industrialisation and infrastructure development. From Africa, South Africa is a member of the BRICS with China and founding member of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) created solely by China in December 2015. Another African state member of the 57 member organisation is Egypt. Nigeria is not there. And still South Africa is a member of the G20. The famous China Belt and Road Initiative with which it targets to link up 60% of the world’s economies through land, sea and air economic channels and routes does not include Nigeria, but with Kenya, Egypt and South Africa, even when Nigeria operates three international seaport cities.
In summary, Nigeria has not been an active beneficiary of the FOCAC forum. Although not lacking or absent, but the impact it should have as the largest economy of the continent has not been leveraged on. It is rather unfortunate and disturbing that Nigeria plays a minor role in a relationship that tends to have the best potential for Africa economic development initiated by China, and that must be as a result of the lukewarm relationship between the two occasioned by the Taiwan snag.
Daily Sun gathered that Nigeria didn’t deliberately step into that Taiwan diplomatic recognition booby trap. It started as business deals with location in a Taiwanese commercial office in Nigeria and later a signpost was plastered on a building in Abuja, announcing the place as Taiwanese Embassy.
Nigeria has the right to do business with Taiwan, after all it is private business investment since the government does not do business but provides the platform. But if a country with clout like US would not toy with the Taiwanese recognition that undermines the One China Policy, it would be diplomatic suicide for a struggling country like Nigeria that needs the assistance of China to try that gamble.
With Trump now in power, China needs to water the ground and do her leg work to ensure that, that resolution of the UN upholding One China is not upset by any diplomatic adventurism.
A country as Nigeria has the selling point to cling to China and play her big market trump card and attract the largest pool of economy in the world with the best disposition to outsource and help other countries grow. As at October last year, China had already hit a blistering $167b FDI worldwide, which is more than her $115b invested in 2015, and being the most liquid economy in the world with dormant $3.6tr in foreign reserve and on October 1, 2016, had her currency, the RMB, listed in the World Bank and IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDR), there is no stopping China and befriending them is simply good diplomatic and economic logic.
Daily Sun was the African journalists’ representative at the Communist Party of China (CPC) Dialogue with the World in the Chongqing Municipality in South West China between October 13 and 15. During the session, we had an exclusive chat with the country’s brightest economist and former World Bank VP, Prof. Lin Yifu of the Peking University. He was reminded of her treatise, refuting the theory that China’s economy would suffer hard landing as bandied by the international media.
In an earlier conference of the T3 (Triennial Conference of China, Japan and South Korea) the three largest economies of Asia whose gross GDP make up 32% of the World’s, Lin had espoused that it’s fluke to guess that China’s economy was going to suffer any hardship in the near future. That speculation has arisen from the sharp drop in the growth from an average of 9.5% in the past 30 years prior to 2015 to 6.7% in 2015 and projected growth of 6.5% in 2016. He said if the worst happened, China can draw down on its foreign reserve and get stability. But that did not happen as the economy still grew at about 7% in 2016.
China battles overcapacity in so many sectors and has the urgent need to outsource to save its economy, create more jobs, get more friends from the countries its outsourcing would help grow and be at peace with the WTO for exceeding her export quotas in several sectors and escape the dumping dark shadows. That was the reason for a major conference, China Forum on Global Production Capacity and Business Cooperation, attended by 78 countries in Wuhan, Hubei Province between June 4 and 6, which Daily Sun participated in.
This smart move by Nigeria to smoothen the rough edges of her diplomacy with China gladdens the heart. This was the major campaign Daily Sun championed earlier on China’s economic miracles and how Nigeria and Africa can benefit and learn from the country for growth. The move by the government is commendable and the fruition of that state visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to China in April last year for which this newspaper published an article setting such agenda for the government.
At the signing of the memoranda in Abuja on Wednesday, January 11, the two Foreign Ministers, Geoffrey Onyeama and Wang, endorsed the normalisation and fortification of diplomatic accord of the two giant countries, which chiefly includes the recognition of the One China and eventually the announcement of a grant of $40b from China to Nigeria. The money is not a free lunch, but enough impetus for any reasonable nation to latch on to for growth. So, the good utilisation depends on Nigeria while we also urge China to be part of the supervision of the investment of the grant for prudence.
With the development, the awesome FOCAC with Nigeria’s full participation as the powerhouse of Africa diplomacy would get a great boost. We are aware of the depth of FOCAC and the sincerity of China to the project. With every opportunity that presents itself, China would remind Africa that her overwhelming vote in 1972 in her favour restored her position, as member of the Security Council of the UN, and today a superpower. China follows the Africa friendship with full commitment and sincerity. China is not an angelic country and, therefore, does not run a perfect alliance with Africa, but to a very large extent shows more commitment and concern to Africa than most other countries. A country that trains thousands of manpower for Africa every year, Nigeria inclusive, is a true friend and that is what China represents, and implements through FOCAC. With Nigeria’s deeper commitment, the country stands to gain most from this alliance.
As stated earlier here, Ambassador Zhou, a committed and experienced diplomat on African affairs, who had worked in the African Affairs Department of the China Foreign Ministry for years is the right person now as the ambassador in Nigeria to drive that project of better and deeper friendship.
We interacted with him in Beijing, and when Daily Sun confronted him with the question on why China buys just one per cent of Nigeria’s crude export every year, the reason he gave was exactly what we got about the same question to the head of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) in November, six months after he said the same thing in the first week of May.
We have no doubt that if the agreement signed last week in Abuja is implemented, our great nation would be the better for it and that would also make China do more in her commitment to Africa economic development, especially to Nigeria and deepen the diplomatic fortunes of the two.