Nigeria and China celebrated 50 years of bilateral relations on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.
Celebrating the anniversary, both countries summed up the successes and hitches experienced in the strategic relationship.
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In marking the event, one thing that was in agreement by all was both countries have maintained their premium positions as most populous nations, and largest economies in Africa and Asia continents respectively.
Both countries have benefited mutually in terms of politics, economy and trade relations with diversification in other sectors like culture, education, health and others in recent time.
Speaking on the long relationship between the two countries, the former Nigerian Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, recalled with nostalgia how Nigeria’s helping hand saw China’s admission to the United Nations (UN) in 1971.
Gowon, who was the first Head of State to visit China, said this in a goodwill message to mark the occasion.
“That ultimately earned Nigeria a welcome state visit to Beijing/China in 1974 and firmly established the bilateral relationship between our two countries,” Gowon recalled.
He added, “We ended the visit with signing a number of agreements, especially in agriculture, trade, communications etc. Succeeding generation/governments expanded the areas of agreements to what it is today.”
Today, the robust bilateral relationship have benefited both Nigeria and China in the execution of numerous projects like Abuja-Kaduna railway, Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone, currency swap, satellite launching, and joint marine scientific exploration, the first of its kind in Africa.
According to the Charge d’Affairs of Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, Mr. Zhao Yong, trade between China and Nigeria has reached 19.27 billion US dollars – an increase of 1900 per cent to that of 1971 when the diplomatic relationship was established.
He said the growth was among the highest 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, which was 14 per cent higher than the trade growth rate between China and Africa as a whole,” he explained.
“At the same time, Nigeria is the China’s major investment destination in Africa, the Ogun-Guangdong and Lekki Free Trade Zones have attracted a large number of Chinese companies to invest and operate their businesses, such as roads, ports and airport terminals,” he said.
Zhao also said, as at 2019, the number of Nigerian students studying in China has reached 6,800, standing first in all African countries.
The next 50 years
However, the most important issue ahead now, is how the relations between the two countries would be in the next 50 years. Officials on both sides think that future relationship would be better than what it is today. During his visit to Nigeria last month, the Foreign Minister of China, Mr. Wang Yi, and President Muhammadu Buhari, jointly formulated a blueprint to boost bilateral cooperation for the next 50 years.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeofrey Onyeama, said the visit by the Chinese foreign minister had reflected the high level of Nigeria-China relations.
He said Nigeria attaches great importance to develop close cooperation with China and regards China as a special strategic partner of cooperation.
Onyeama noted that Nigeria firmly supports the one-China principle and appreciates China’s adherence to the “one country, two systems”. The minister explained that Nigeria would ensure efficient operation of the inter-governmental committee of the two countries, enhance bilateral cooperation.
Charge d’Affairs of Peoples Republic of China in Nigeria, Zhao Yong, also expressed the readiness of China to make joint efforts with Nigeria to further strengthen the strategic relationship.
Zhao said, China was committed to consolidate on the anti-pandemic cooperation, to completely defeat the COVID-19 in Nigeria and to support Nigeria’s development, security and safeguard its national sovereignty.
“China is ready to deepen the Belt and Road Cooperation; speed up the construction of key projects so as to help Nigeria accelerate the process of industrialisation.
“We want to have cooperation in the areas of digital economy and green economy; expand military and security cooperation with a view to enhancing Nigeria’s capacity of safeguarding national security.
“We want to closely coordinate with each other on regional and international affairs to safeguard the common interests of developing countries,” he added.
A former Ambassador to China, Senator Aminu Wali, expressed optimism that Nigeria will gain a lot more as long if the relationship is maintained.
He explained that both countries share a lot of things in common and Nigeria still needs to learn much from China.
“Chinese come from a background which is very much like our own and today they have achieved so much in a very short period of time.
“Right now, China is a world power to reckon with, and Nigeria can do the same except that we have to learn how they govern in terms of the discipline that they maintained within their societies and their culture of being wanting to reach out and move forward and accept the will of the leadership.
“This is one of the qualities that Chinese have, but at the same time as they move on they refused to discard their culture and tradition. They were able to blend governance within the concept of their culture not to buy in total which is practice all over the world in terms of democracy and how to go about it. “They know they have their limitations, they know they have their advantages in terms of culture and their lives as they have grown.
“This is something that we should have to borrow. Here we accept method of government in total regardless of its effects on our own culture because culturally, Africa has a lot of things in common, regardless of whichever tribe you come from.
“Therefore, we should look at what Chinese have achieved by not buying in total what is being brought over and the kind of pressure they are under to accept the concept of governance as defined by the West.
“So, if we can, we should now look inward and see how best we can adopt whatever system we want to adopt.
“There are lot of people talking about restructuring and what have you, now we have to look at our position holistically and see how best we can come up with a system of government, be it borrowing from the West, from the East, from our culture. That is what the Chinese have done and that is why they have achieved so much and that is why I think we have a lot to learn from the Chinese.
Huge Nigeria’s trade deficit against China
The trade imbalance between both countries has continued to grow in recent times. Based on the data available, Nigeria has a trade deficit of N6.83 trillion in favour of China between 2015 and 2018.
It was estimated that, between 2015 and 2018, the total trade between Nigeria and China was about $49 billion, which means that goods imported from China into Nigeria in that period were about $17.5 billion more than those exported from Nigeria to China.
Several local manufacturing companies in Nigeria, including textile and garment factories have died because of this development.
Recently, Nigerian is experiencing worst trade balance with China, given the subdued crude export and price in the world market.
However, Ambassador Wali, said it is not a good thing for the countries to have trade imbalance but observed that, it is not limited to Nigeria.
“Trade imbalance with the Chinese is all over the globe so we now have to look inward as far as we are concerned to borrow from the Chinese how they manage to achieve the feat.
“Agricultural sector and the small scale industries made China what they are today. And, that is what brings the imbalance.
“They encouraged small and medium scale industries and today they are the major exporters of those goods that lead us to have the imbalance between China and other countries.
On whether the Chinese loans will enslave Nigeria, Senator Wali said he was not sure if it’s justifiable.
“After all, we have been living in slavery all these years. We have made it possible for the Western world to develop to where they are today by utilising and enslaving us.
“Of course, Chinese, from their own principles they have always maintained that no string attached to the loans and grant they give out to developing countries. Now, I have not seen anything otherwise but we have to be on the lookout.
“The loans that we get from China is something that we benefit from and at the same time in the long run they will also benefit.
“So the whole question is, how good the negotiators of our loans are, so that they get the best out of the Chinese, in the same way and manner the Chinese are bringing their best to negotiate whatever loan so that they are able to get the benefit.
“So the whole point is like what the Chinese said ‘win-win situation. That is what we should look for” he added.
– Crude oil price crash
A significant amount of Nigeria’s export to China is crude oil, and with the crash in the crude oil price and a global economic downturn caused by the new coronavirus, Nigeria craves for Chinese investment and loans.
China is now a major financier of large projects in Nigeria. This includes the $874 million, 187km Abuja-Kaduna rail, the $1.2 billion, 312km Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the $1.1 billion Kano-Kaduna railway lines and the $600 airport terminals in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano. Estimate puts the current cost of Chinese projects at $47 billion. Many of these are financed by Chinese loans.
The Director, Centre for China Studies, Mr Charles Onunaiju, advised Nigerian policy makers to exploit the huge economic opportunities in the $22 trillion Chinese market to become the next industrial frontier.
He said that could be possible if the federal government implements certain policy and infrastructure development programmes in the country.
Onunaiju explained that the Belt and Road Framework of international cooperation between both countries offered opportunity for Nigeria to close its infrastructural gab.
“As China dredges through the gridlock of the middle-income trap and evolve to post-industrial economy of knowledge and innovation, the title of the world’s next industrial frontier falls to Nigeria and Africa with Chinese firms setting their eyes on Nigeria, it is imperative that we engage policy priorities that accommodate the objective trends of global and specifically, China’s industrial convergence on our shores.
“Accessibility to the Chinese huge market; a market volume of about $22tn is no joke and should not escape the attention of policy makers.
“If Nigeria addresses her transport networks, which can be achieved through robust engagement with the Belt and Road mechanism, seize the opportunities of her potential as the next industrial frontier through mainstreaming with China, the industrial and production capacity cooperation, then she is well on the way to exploring the huge Chinese market, not with primary products or commodities but solid medium industrial products to be modest,” he added.