The ambassador of the Peoples Republic of China to Nigeria, Cui Jianchun, in this interview, shared his thoughts on poverty alleviation and insecurity in Nigeria, using his country’s experience, among other things.
Beyond investing in infrastructure, what plans does China have for Nigeria, especially in the area of technology?
From 1949 to 1979 was a very important period for China. At that time, we were working hard to build the country. We have achieved the initiative to have advanced technology. I have ideas and suggestions on how the right technology can be applied in Nigeria. We have to share our experiences to leaders in China and Nigeria on how to build industries, using technology like the 5G. I am working hard with Chinese companies to build factories and transfer technology.
Every sector needs technology. I am working hard to bring Chinese banks to Nigeria. We need value-adding industries. Last year, the volume of trade between Nigeria and China was the biggest in the whole of the continent. The two countries have decided to establish a bi-national committee to work, direct, control and supervise programmes. We couldn’t do much this year because of COVID-19, but I am looking forward to next year when the two sides would sit down to set out the specific goals and projects.
We also need a soft exchange from top level. We have 6,830 Nigerian students in China. And this can be very important for Nigeria’s development.
How are the efforts of the Chinese government to support security in Nigeria?
China also had issues, but we found a way to overcome the challenge, so we believe that we can share the lessons with Nigeria. I held meetings with the inspector-general of police and the minister of foreign affairs. The main idea is how to solve the very complicated issue.
Nigerians are a little skeptical when you talk about cooperation with China – that it is not mutually beneficial. What are you doing to build trust?
I am working hard on this. I believe that China’s experience would be good for Nigeria, especially the youth, who can do more than the older generation. I thinking the first thing is how we can get more young people to go to China. I believe China is on the right side of history because we suffered a lot.
At the end of COVID-19 I want Nigerian young people to visit China and go to rural areas. In 2012, we had 98 per cent of people living in rural areas. We had 128,000 impoverished villages, 832 poor counties lifted from poverty areas. We have 1.4bn people in China and we achieved this goal. In Nigeria, we have abundant human and material resources.
Despite COVID-19 and security concerns in Nigeria, China has continued to invest in the country; why is it so?
It is about political consonance, trust, inter-dependence, need, wants and economic cooperation. In this 21st century, without real content this relationship cannot be sustainable. Only an economic policy can benefit more people.
We need cultural exchange, the military and security cooperation, but the biggest one is economic cooperation to back the political consonance or trust.
The second point I want to highlight is that since 2002, China has a national foreign policy that gives incentives and encouragement for enterprises to do business globally. Since 1979, we introduced the Reform and Opening Up Policy, with which we introduced a lot of things from outside China: money, technology, management, legal, human resources. Since 1979, we try to learn more, attract more and introduce more from the international community, not only from developed countries but developing countries, but mostly developed countries. This was the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) plan in 2002; and this is the 16th party congress. So the global businesses being encouraged are not only for profit, the productivity of China is higher, and this is why the country is the world’s factory.
As the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, I am really trying to understand the needs, wants and demands of Nigerian people and businesses. We need cooperation in information and communication technology, investment in agriculture, mining sector, oil and gas. We need value added industry. We also need to export more products from Nigeria to go to regional markets in Africa, Europe, America and China. If the country is more politically favourable, it could galvanise the progress.
China is working hard to control the COVID-19 situation and has restored the economy to normalcy. I am focusing on the good of the two countries, not profits.
Some Nigerians are expressing concern over Chinese loans; what is your take?
If you want to develop but have limited resources, you have to borrow money. But you have to consider equity, liability etc. If you have 60 per cent of liability and 40 per cent of equity, it is normal.
For Nigeria, the most important thing is productivity. If you borrow money you have to increase your productivity. You need money for infrastructure like railway, roads etc. You cannot say you borrowed money from the international financial institution to pay the salaries of public servants because it is a debt, not capital.
In the 1980s, China wanted to develop electricity in the Guangdong Province but did not have money. We had to go to the Bank of China to borrow to build nuclear power plant. We had to export electricity because the cost was much higher. We need money to develop, not only for survival as a country.
Secondly, I want to say that China has a good intention to support Nigeria through concessional loans. But the projects have to be viable. It is not every country that can get loans from China because these things reflect friendship, confidence, future and health of the country because these concessional loans cost Chinese taxpayers so much. Now, we have nearly $3.5billion at a very low interest from the Exim Bank; and the gap of the interest is being financed by the Chinese Ministry of Finance.
My understanding is that it is not a debt trap because it is difficult for Nigeria to get loans. The banking industry uses different languages, such as collateral. The biggest concern for me is how you can get the money.
Some people say that if in the future Nigeria cannot pay back the loan, it would lose its sovereignty, but that is not correct. The key is how to get the money and select sustainable projects to support the country’s development. Even United States of America’s debt is now very high, but it is easy for them to get money. So money is very important.
Again, can you get workers from European or western countries to execute the projects as you would the Chinese? They would say it is dirty and a hard job, but the Chinese will build it for you.
I think some countries that do not want to put more efforts are jealous. They believe that if they cannot do it, you also should not do it. For the G7 countries, we are counting on their practical management of these issues. So we think this is a big thing, not only for China but African countries.
How would China support Nigeria in poverty alleviation and insecurity?
My understanding of the issues is limited because I am only half years in Nigeria. I think three things are important in Nigeria: insecurity, poverty and energy. I understand the meaning of hunger and poverty. Before the 1979 reform, China people were struggling to have cloths, transportation and shelter. I think the good things the CPC has led the people to achieve through new policies need to be shared. So, I would like to focus on three things like sharing to the Nigerian businesses and general public, Chinese best practices, policies and programmes, and how 1.4 billion people were lifted out of extreme poverty, 10 years ahead of the Social Development Goals (SDGs).
I am concerned about how to eliminate extreme poverty in Nigeria. In terms of insecurity, I want to say that it is a global issue. I think it is related to the crisis of trust we have. If we want to win this war, we need people’s trust. To win the poverty war, politicians must work together against terrorism, kidnapping, robbery and piracy. We had similar experiences in China during the Qing Dynasty till 1911. We need to support the police to serve the country. We must focus on building the economy so that people can get decent work and wages.
What is the current volume of trade between Nigeria and China?
The trade volume between Nigeria and China in 2020 was $19.2billion. Nigeria is the biggest economy in the whole of African continent. Last year, it was the largest trade volume in Africa.
What is your impression of Nigeria so far?
I try to learn the culture, way of life and the beliefs of the people and realised that we share some things in common. We want to identify Nigerian young talents to build their skills. I believe that if I cannot complete this project, my successors would continue and finish it.