By Charles Onunaiju
Nigeria and China bilateral cooperation reaches a significant milestone, this year of a golden jubilee anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations on the 10th February, 1971, between the two countries.
To give verve to the golden jubilee anniversary of Sino-Nigeria diplomatic relation, Chinese foreign minster and state councilor Mr. Wang Yi commence his five-nation African tour from Abuja, Nigeria and then, go to Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. Visiting Africa first at the start of every year is a long enduring Beijing’s diplomatic tradition that has spanned nearly three decades and symbolically emphasized the special feelings and bond of China and Africa which are passed on from generation to generation of the two sides.
Nigeria and China are symbiotic in many significant symbolic ways. They are the largest countries in their respective regions, even as China is the home to the largest number of human beings on earth.
The two countries share the same date of October 1st as modern China was founded on that date in 1949 and the sovereign state of Nigeria was established in 1960.
Regional influencers in their respective right, Beijing is the locus of the recently launched largest free trading area in the world, the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership of ten ASEAN members plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, just as Nigeria is the driving force of the equally newly minted Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area, AFCTA. In both regional and global affairs, both countries are significant actors, whose constructive bilateral engagement can play pivotal roles in the shaping and building of a community of shared future for humanity.
The path culminating to thegolden Jubilee or the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relation and broad bilateral cooperation between the two countries was considerably traversed with key and vital events in the life of both countries.
The formal establishment of diplomatic relation in 1971 was followed almost immediately with the first bilateral economic and trade agreement by officials of both sides in 1972. And determined to diversify her global outlook and broaden its multilateral diplomacy, the then Nigeria’s head of state, General Gowon paid a state visit to China in 1974 and was hosted by the legendary Chairman Mao Zedong.
However, on October 25th 1971 barely ten months after the establishment of diplomatic relations, Nigeria along with other 75 nations across the world voted at the 26th Session of the United Nations General Assembly for the restoration of the lawful right of China to the foremost global body that Beijing has not only helped to found in 1945 but was the first signatory to its charter.
Despite a lacuna of eleven years without diplomatic relation, after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the two countries hit out, on a good start soon after formally establishing diplomatic relations on the 10th February 1971, with Nigeria’s active participation in returning China to the United Nations.
Chairman Mao Zedong was reported to have enthusiastically said, “it was our African brothers that carried us into the United Nations.”
The political foundation of solidarity and mutual respect for each other enabled the contemporary robust engagement that have delivered tangible and practical results, with prospects to advance it to more comprehensive cooperation. Nigeria’s economic policy flagship, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which focused mainly on revitalizing critical infrastructures as fundamental to sustainable and inclusive economic development has received huge impetus and complementarity boost by China’s support in the construction of key infrastructure projects. The gap and financial bottleneck that would considerably impede the construction of these key infrastructure projects were filled by China’s concessional loans. These projects are in the strategic sectors of transport, power, airports, and sea ports.
Under the Belt and Road framework of international cooperation, initiated by China in 2013 but now a global public good domiciled in the world open space, Nigeria-China cooperation has entered a new era of vitality, especially when synergized with the highly regarded mechanism of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, (FOCAC). Through the process of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation especially its two landmark summits, held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015 and Beijing, China in 2018 respectively, China-Africa Cooperation with Nigeria as important stakeholder opened range of opportunities that delivered tangible outcomes to the strategic need of Africa in general and Nigeria in particular to undertake the onerous task of economic recovery, sustainable growth and inclusive development. From industrialization, Agricultural modernization, infrastructure construction etc, the ten-point cooperation plan in Johannesburg in 2015 plus the eight major initiatives in Beijing in 2018 outlined by President Xi Jinping and backed with a total of 120 billion U.S dollars was a definitive game-changer in the historic opportunity of China to Africa, which thankfully have been put into strict use by African countries including Nigeria to upgrade their critical fundamentals. While collaborating on most of Nigeria’s critical infrastructure projects, China has availed its experience to Nigeria on the construction and operation of special economic zones, which have become magnet for Chinese investment into the country. The Lekki Free Trade Zone, the Ogun-Guangdong Free Zone and EPZ in Calabar, Cross River are both consequences of practical cooperation and mutual learning.
Under the mechanism of the Belt and Road initiative, (BRI) for which Nigeria has signed on, as a partner in 2018, the prospects for deeper engagement and more practical outcomes in support of Nigeria’s critical infrastructure are huge. The Belt and Road Initiative launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 is a framework for International economic cooperation. The framework carried forward the spirit of the ancient Silk Road and in line with the principles of extensive construction, joint efforts and shared benefits, with aims to enhance policy, infrastructure, trade, financial, and People-to-people connectivity, accelerate practical cooperation in various fields and promote open, inclusive and common development for all countries.
The World Bank in its report has stated that BRI transport projects can expand trade, increase foreign investment and reduce poverty by lowering the cost of trade; and added that if fully implemented BRI transport projects could increase trade between 1.7% and 6.2% for the world, increasing global real income by 0.7 to 2.9%.
An advisory that Nigeria may need to pay special attention, the world Bank said “complementary policy reforms can maximize the positive efforts of BRI transport projects and ensure that the gains are widely shared,” adding that “for some countries, reforms are the pre-condition to having net gain from BRI transport projects.” However, for reforms to have the desired effects as compliments for maximizing the gains of the BRI, it must be generated from the interrogation of specific social reality and national condition of the country concerned.
Drawing from the eventful trajectories of Nigeria-China Cooperation and the political goodwill that have historically energized it, Nigeria can leverage the Belt and Road Initiative, not as a mere passive signatory but a robust partner addressing herself to the specific content of the initiative and aligning it to the articulated national priorities of the country’s development plan.
For practical step in aligning to the critical component of the initiative; infrastructure construction and connectivity, Nigeria should consider, to immediately seek and access the membership of Asian Investment and infrastructure Bank(AIIB), a BRI- inspired multilateral financial institution with mandate for financing infrastructure projects in mostly developing countries. Despite the liquidity of the bank to support infrastructure constructions, the Bank represents a major shift in global financial architecture. Nigeria should obviously, not be missing at such an important table.
Nigeria and China have historic responsibilities in the respective regions and the world at large and the complementarity and convergence in their respective national outlook and shared views on global governance issues put them in the joint driving seat to advance the building of a community of shared future for humanity.
The just outgone year of 2020 which grossly tested the will of humanity for solidarity and cooperation did not find Nigeria/China cooperation wanting, as the two sides exerted their utmost to confront the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. Though trade, investments, and other practical engagements may have slowed, the opportunity for robust revival has already revealed itself in the China’s 14th five-year plan released recently at the conclusion of the 5th plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, CPC.
The innovative economic model of “dual circulation,” in which China would take its domestic market as primary and letting domestic and international market reinforce each other, would undoubtedly spur consumption in all-around way and expand investment. China’s vigorous reform and wider opening up, under the new economic paradigm bring more opportunities to Nigeria-China cooperation.
Nigeria as the fulcrum of the African continental free trade Area (AfCTA) can actually be the investment magnet of Chinese enterprises who would seek oversea manufacturing hub with relative low production cost, with additionally advantage to give Nigeria strategic access to China’s huge market.
As China and Nigeria marks their historic Golden Jubilee in bilateral relation; their strategic partnership formally consummated in 2005 should inform strategic thinking and innovative policy initiatives in both Beijing and Abuja to continuously expand the frontiers of cooperation, engage new drivers to enhance it, and harvest more tangible results for the brotherly peoples of the two countries and humanity at large.
Mr. Onunaiju is research director of the Centre for China Studies, Utako, Abuja