TUESDAY Column by VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
China may not have invented any of the modern-day electronic gadgets we flaunt in our homes, offices, etc.; but take a look at their labels and you will discover that most of them in one way or other, are coming from China or adjoining countries of Indonesia, Thailand et al. The Asian Tigers, they are called.
Japan is supposed to be our most influential trading partner in that region since they have been interacting with us from time immemorial, so to speak. Both Nigeria and Japan were from the onset capitalist-oriented countries that subscribe to the ideology of free market enterprise. Their products with those from our erstwhile colonial masters, United Kingdom (UK) are tagged ‘original’ in the Nigerian parlance. But alas, today the so-called ‘made in Japan’ or ‘made in England’ goods are hard to come by. And where you manage to find them their prices are way above the roof so that only the nouveaux rich can practically afford them. This is where the Asians led by the pragmatic Chinese have come in to fill a gulf in our market segmentation by flooding our country with relatively cheaper products. Virtually all Nigerians and in particular the low and middle income earners have embraced them wholeheartedly. And so it is that our businessmen are turning their gaze more and more, to China, Indonesia, et al. That is why many more of our imports are coming from that part of the world.
Our governments, both State and federal are also forging greater ties with the Asians resulting into a marriage of sort. The Chinese are now making inroads into the infrastructure among other key areas with our governments awarding or entering into partnerships with them for revamping or building of new projects in those areas and others. The bottom-line is that the Asians have wooed us into their arms. Housewives and households are frolicking with them on dining tables via rice from that region, Asia. Good old Uncle Ben’s rice is hard to find now. Twenty first century kids are in love with play station and noodles which has its origins in that part of the world. Noodles is a food delicacy that was hitherto unknown in the dictionary of older generations but which is fast gaining ground among all strata of society, save the most fastidious. And the upwardly mobile professionals? They too are getting hoodwinked by the Asian tigers. Kung Fu related films are gradually becoming popular with Nigerian film enthusiasts, so much so that cable operators in Nigeria are adding more Asian channels to their bouquets.
How can I forget to mention Chinese- driven herbal medicine and electro-magnetic therapies that are fast gaining ground world-wide, among all generations, young and old, including Nigerians, seeking for the secrets of longevity and ‘everlasting’ youth?
What remains for the Asian take-over to be complete perhaps is for us to be able to speak their tongue-twisting language as fluently as the English language, our lingua franca. But I learnt that one of our universities has instituted a programme for the teaching of Chinese language. Kano State government is establishing a Chinese school. In this age of the miraculous when what was thought impossible years ago, now happens, that day may not be far off when the Chinese language would also be as widely spoken.
But how did the Chinese come to strut about our industrial landscape like a colossus such that most industrial and household products in one way or other carry the signature “made in China”, “fabricated in China” while “made in Japan” and “made in UK” brands are now endangered species of sort, in our clime? How did the reversal set in? Is it that as we grew older as a nation, Nigeria began to gradually cut the umbilical cord that tied it to its western allies, and began to court the hand of new friends as an adult? Or, is it that as the country grew older it began to have a longing to ‘see’ and ‘taste’ other parts of the World?
In truth it was a combination of social and economic factors. As economic challenges set in, our exchange rate in relation to other major world currencies, notably the British pound and US dollars, nose-dived, thereby making prices of goods imported from these countries way out of reach of the average Nigerian. Our businessmen and importers then turned to Asia, China which is offering cheaper alternatives. China itself embarked on what can be called social engineering. It came out of its communist cocoon to embrace the world. Chinese President Li Jipeng has embarked on world tours, visiting developed and developing countries to sign bilateral cooperation agreements to open up itself to the world. China has been hosting notable world conferences, a testimony of its social standing globally. With a population of over one billion people, the largest in the world, neither industrialised nor emerging economies like ours can afford to ignore China.
Remarkably too China embarked on some king of deliberate lobbying to woo African and developing countries. It is noteworthy that China built the imposing African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa free of charge — it built and donated it to the AU. It is said that but for China, Zimbabwe would have been wiped out of the earth so to speak following the choking sanctions imposed on it by the western countries during Robert Mugabe’s reign. And China has expanded its satellite cable television (which is free to air), renaming it China Global Television (CGTV). CGTV now competes with both CNN (America) and BBC (UK) in the race to influence the world.
Overall, China is winning not just in Nigeria but also globally with sure and steady steps. Consider that in 2005 China’s economy was according to statistics, less than half that of the United States. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that by 2019 the Chinese economy would be 20 per cent larger than that of the US. China is even rated now as the world’s largest economy, going by some reports. For example, China’s share of the global economy is put at 16.48 per cent and the US’ share 16.28 per cent. Surely, the Chinese are winning.