Lu Shaye, director-general of African affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recently had an online chat with Chinese netizens in which he addressed a wide-range of questions on China’s relations with Africa, including RMB settlement, fake drugs, pirates, soft power and debt relief. The translated version of that discussion is below.
… How should we regard the current relationship between China and Africa and the future development of the ties between these two countries [sic]? What is the current state of China’s relations with African countries? On February 27 at 2 o’clock pm, China Daily.com will host the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of African Affairs Lu Shaye for an online exchange with netizens. Feel free to ask questions.
Host: Hello netizens. We welcome you to this edition of the Let’s Talk Diplomacy interview program. We are very honored to have the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of African Affairs Lu Shaye as a guest here at China Daily.com to have an online exchange with netizens on the cooperation between China and Africa and other questions. We welcome you to ask questions.
Welcome Mr Lu. Africa is a strange and mysterious place to many netizens. First, please give us a brief introduction to the overall situation in Africa and the condition of China-Africa relations.
Lu Shaye: Hello netizens! I’m pleased to have this online exchange with everyone at China Daily.com. Many Chinese people have become interested in Africa and China’s cooperation with Africa following the development of China-Africa relations. We have received many questions from netizens on various issues, and I will use this opportunity today to answer everyone’s questions.
First, let me give a brief introduction to China-Africa relations. China established relations with Africa in the mid-1950s. At that time, not many African countries were independent. In 1956, China and Egypt established diplomatic relations, marking the beginning of diplomatic relations between China and African countries. From then on, China-Africa relations entered a period of very fast development.
In the 1960s and 70s, China vigorously supported African liberation and independence movements, and also gave African countries all the help it could to support their economic construction. In the 1980s and 90s, China-Africa relations expanded to other areas, and grew from just simple aid to encompassing trade, investment, project contracting and other endeavors.
Entering the new century, China and Africa established the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, which led to the rapid development of friendly relations between China and Africa, and attracted widespread attention from the international community. Today, the scope of China-Africa cooperation has far exceeded what it was when China and Africa first established relations. The volume of trade between China and Africa is now at nearly $200 billion and China’s accumulated investment in Africa is almost $17 billion. Personnel exchanges between China and Africa are also increasing.
More than 100,000 Chinese tourists visit South Africa each year. Even though Seychelles is a small African country with a population of only 100,000 people, almost 4000 Chinese tourists visit the country each year, and this number is rapidly increasing. There are very good prospects for the development of China-Africa relations. We hope that everyone will continue to pay close attention to Africa, work to preserve China-Africa relations and work together to promote the development of China-Africa relations.
Host: Thank you Mr Lu for giving us that introduction. A netizen named “白色2013” wants to ask the following questions: People usually associate Africa with poverty and turmoil. This netizen wants to know the real Africa: what is the economic situation there, how do ordinary people there live, what do they do for entertainment and what is their attitude towards China?
Lu Shaye: Of course African countries are not just poor and embroiled in turmoil and warfare. Africa has a very good natural environment and most areas there are covered by savannas or tropical rain forests. It is also rich in animal and plant resources.
African countries’ economies have been developing very well in recent years. According to international institutions, seven of the ten fastest-growing countries in the world over the next five years will be in Africa. African countries are rich in natural resources and there is vast market potential there. As long as stability is maintained, there will be great potential for development.
The overall political situation in Africa is currently stable, but some areas are still suffering from unrest and crises. We hope that the international community will join together to help Africa maintain peace and stability, and create a favorable environment for its development.
African people are naturally friendly and cheerful. Their recreational activities are simple — singing and dancing. They are very close to nature. When we Chinese people go to Africa, we mainly like to go see the wildlife there — this reflects on one of the characteristics of Africa.
Overall, Africans are very friendly towards Chinese people. This friendliness was established over the past few decades on the basis of China’s altruistic help to Africa, and China’s policy of political equality with Africa.
In recent years, as the number of Chinese people who go to Africa has increased, a few of those people who go there do not respect Africans. When in Africa, some of these people’s words and actions harm African people’s interests, and give rise to Africans having unfavorable views of Chinese people.
We therefore hope that the majority of people who go to Africa keep in mind that they are Chinese people who are representing China’s image. We should treat African people in a friendly and egalitarian manner; this will be beneficial for Chinese people’s continued well-being and development in Africa.
Host: A netizen named “故我在” asks the following questions: Recently, some African countries have been suffering from political unrest. What do you think is the cause of the political unrest in Africa? And what will be the effect of this unrest on the development of China-Africa relations? Most importantly, has this political unrest had any negative influence on the lives of Chinese people who are living there?
Lu Shaye: The root of the political unrest in Africa is the laggardly economic development there. This is because if common people are not satisfied with their lives, then they will definitely want to change the status quo.
The upheaval in Africa is also the result of a number of other factors, however, including historical factors, problems arising from colonial rule, tribal conflict and disputes between political parties that have arisen as a result of the implementation of multi-party democracy.
The political unrest that has occurred in West Asia and North Africa over the past two years has also had a significant influence on the political situation in sub-Saharan Africa — the recent chaotic war in Mali, for example, is a spillover effect of the war in Libya.
China’s interest in Africa and the number of Chinese living in Africa has risen because of growing cooperation between China and Africa. Therefore, the political unrest in Africa will increasingly involve and influence China.
Host: A netizen named “义无反顾” wants to ask Mr Lu the following questions: Somalian pirates are often mentioned in news reports and have become the focus of everyone’s attention. The netizen wants to know why Somalian pirates have been so rampant? And what lead to the emergence of these pirates? Has there been any improvement in the situation?
Lu Shaye: Somalian pirates consist of three groups — most of them are fisherman, but a few of them are also members of criminal gangs and terrorists. In times of peace and stability, most of them depended on fishery, but as everyone knows, Somalia entered into a chaotic war in the early 90s. This war deprived fisherman of their livelihood and they took to becoming pirates. As such, even though the reasons for the emergence of pirates are very complex, the main reasons are instability and an underdeveloped economy.
Last year when the civil war in Somalia abated, a government and parliament was formed. We hope that Somalia will embark on a path of peaceful development from here on out.
Host: Besides the Somalia pirate problem, netizens have also focused a lot on Egypt. A netizen named “花非花” asks the following questions: Egypt has been continuously embroiled in turmoil. Why has it been mired in instability for such a long time? What is the main reason behind the political instability in Egypt and what effect will this have on China-Egypt relations?
Lu Shaye: In my opinion, Egypt’s continuing political instability is because the current situation there is far removed from the initial hopes the people there had when the [2011 Egyptian] revolution started. The people hoped that the revolution would bring freedom and improve their living conditions, but now, even though they have freedom, they have lost their jobs and they have no means of livelihood. Tourism, the original pillar of the Egyptian economy, suffered a devastating blow during the upheaval.
China and Egypt are traditionally friendly countries. Just now I said that Egypt was the first African country that China established relations with. We sympathize with Egypt in its current situation and hope that the country can quickly restore peace and stability and achieve economic development.
China has always emphasized the development of friendly and cooperative relations with Egypt, and will not change its policy of friendship towards Egypt because of the current situation there. We hope that stability will quickly be restored to Egypt in order to facilitate the development of Sino-Egyptian cooperation.
Host: The next question comes from Wang Xiaoyang [Eric Wang], secretary general of the China-Africa Business Council. He wants to ask Mr. Lu two questions. First, what lies in 2013 in terms of following up to the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation? Second, what concrete actions will be taken to promote currency cooperation between China and Africa?
Lu Shaye: The fifth ministerial meeting of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, which was held last year, led to the adoption of two outcome documents — the Beijing Declaration and the Beijing Action Plan. Representing the Chinese government, President Hu Jintao announced initiatives to promote China-Africa Cooperation in five key areas. Today, we should get to work on carrying out these initiatives and implementing the Action Plan.
From a procedural angle, one of the more important steps that will be taken toward this end is the political consultations between the Chinese foreign minister and African foreign ministers that will take place during the United Nations General Assembly in September.
As for currency cooperation between China and Africa, this was clearly stated in the Action Plan: China welcomes African countries to settle bilateral trade in local currencies. Chinese and African ministries of finance will conduct the specific negotiations on how to move forward with China-Africa currency cooperation.
Host: A netizen named “金蛇狂舞2013” wants to ask Mr. Lu the following questions: There are currently very few government policies to encourage investment in Africa. Will the government introduce preferential polices to help privately owned businesses to invest in Africa? Also, the African service industry is still at a nascent stage; what is the outlook on the Chinese financial services companies and other Chinese service companies who want to enter the African market?
Lu Shaye: We also hope that the Chinese government will introduce more preferential policies to encourage privately-owned businesses to invest in Africa.
Actually, the African services industry is quite developed, but most of the companies operating in this industry are Western companies. However, the prospects of Chinese financial services companies and other Chinese service companies who want to enter the African market are undoubtedly positive. All that remains to be seen is whether our companies have the courage, resolve and ability to enter the African market.
Host: Another netizen named “彩虹沙漠” has a rather incisive question. She asks: UK media recently published articles claiming that there was a large number of Chinese and Indian fake drugs being imported into Africa; doesn’t this impede Africa from preventing and curing malaria? What is Mr. Lu’s view on this?
Lu Shaye: I will not comment on whether Indian fake drugs have entered Africa.
Having said that, the claims that large numbers of Chinese fake drugs are being imported into Africa are sheer nonsense. After that UK news organization’s article was published, we conducted investigations through our embassies in Africa. The facts prove that the situation is the exact opposite of what was reported.
All Chinese antimalarial drugs obtain certification from the World Health Organization before they are exported to Africa. These drugs are very efficient and have been very popular among the African people. We call upon the relevant news organization to adhere to the principles of objectivity and truth in its reporting, and to not disseminate fake information.
Host: “Soft power” is a catchword that has been widely circulated in relation to diplomacy. What is the importance of increasing China’s soft power in Africa?
Lu Shaye: The pursuit of soft power is an important part of any country’s diplomatic strategy. Soft power is indispensable in developing our relations with Africa. China’s economic and trade cooperation with Africa has developed very quickly in recent years, thus we can say that we have rapidly increased our hard power. However, that has created many misgivings among foreign countries.
In practice, increasing [China’s] soft power in Africa means strengthening the cultural exchanges between China and Africa in order for both Chinese and African people to increase their understanding and support of cooperation between the two sides. Africa plays a fundamental role in China’s diplomatic strategy, and, accordingly, increasing China’s soft power in Africa is very important.
Host: A netizen named “峨眉刺” says: China has on several occasions forgiven Africa’s debts to China. How were those debts incurred? And how much does Africa currently owe to China?
Lu Shaye: The aid that China gave to Africa in the past was mainly in the form of interest-free loans or low-interest loans. These loans form African countries’ government debts to China. Following debt relief initiatives introduced at a number of Forum on China–Africa Cooperation ministerial meetings, however, there is now very little government debt that African countries owe China.
Most of the aid that China now gives Africa is in the form of financial or material help provided free of charge.
Host: Netizen “蜗牛的蜗居” wants to ask Mr. Lu the following question: Chairman Mao once said, “It was our black brothers that carried us into the United Nations.” How is China’s cooperation with African countries in the United Nations?
Lu Shaye: China and African countries maintain close coordination and cooperation in the United Nations. About 60 to 70 percent of the questions that the UN Security Council is currently discussing involve Africa. China has always maintained close communication and coordination with the African members of the Security Council, and stood up for Africa. Furthermore, China actively participates in UN peacekeeping activities in Africa, playing a constructive role in the maintenance of peace and security in Africa.
Host: Netizen “华丽的影子” says: An infamous tragedy once occurred in Rwanda. What is the situation in Rwanda now? And how are China’s relations with Rwanda?
Lu Shaye: I visited Rwanda before the massacre occurred. My impression was that it was a beautiful and tranquil mountainous country. However, I have never returned there. As I understand it, Rwanda is doing well; the rate of economic growth there is fast compared to other African countries and governance is efficient. China and Rwanda have consistently maintained friendly relations, and cooperation between the two countries is increasing. We are confident that Rwanda will continue to develop.
Host: China’s Special Representative for African Affairs Zhong Jianhua recently visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Netizen 轻舞飞扬的猫 wants to ask whether Ambassador Zhong’s visit had anything to do with the situation in eastern Congo.
Lu Shaye: This netizen’s unexpected knowledge that Ambassador Zhong visited the African Great Lakes region a few days ago shows that [s/he] is surely well-versed in African affairs. Ambassador Zhong’s visit was, as expected, connected with the situation in eastern Congo. He went to find out the involved countries’ views on the situation, to urge reconciliation and to facilitate talks. From the reports we received, the visit was very successful.
It bears emphasizing that ever since the Chinese government established the Special Representative for African Affairs position, China has played a more active role in African peace and security affairs, gaining approval and praise from African countries and the international community.
We will continue to increase our constructive engagement in African peace and security affairs. Of course this means that Ambassador Zhong will be working very hard, and will be busy going to Africa and other places.
Host: A netizen named “无师自通” says that he has a friend who wants to go to work in Nigeria in the near future, but he has seen a number of reports of attacks on, and the kidnapping of, Chinese citizens and Chinese workers at companies in Nigeria. He is very worried and wants to ask Mr. Lu what the security situation in Nigerian currently is and what steps China’s embassy in Nigeria is taking to protect our companies and citizens.
Lu Shaye: The current situation in this place truly is not optimistic. We call on Chinese citizens who are working in Nigeria to pay extra attention to their safety and keep in contact with our embassy [in Abuja] and consulate [in Lagos]. The embassy and consulate will promptly announce any security warnings and maintain close contact with the relevant Nigerian government departments, so as to be able to provide assistance and protection to our citizens and companies who come into danger.
Host: This netizen named “世纪天骄” says: I heard that there were some problems with the Jinfei Economic Trade and Cooperation Zone that China built in Mauritius. What measures are the Chinese and Mauritian government taking to solve these problems? And what is the current status of this Cooperation Zone?
[Trans.:China’s Ministry of Commerce approved the Tianli Group’s tender to establish the Jinfei Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone in Mauritius in 2006. However, delays in resettlement and financing meant Tianli (a Shanxi SOE) was unable to begin construction of the zone as scheduled. More Chinese companies were invited to invest in the project, but development has yet to begin on a significant level]
Lu Shaye: Although this project has gained the support of both governments, it is actually a corporate undertaking. It seems that the current difficulties in the execution of the project are mainly because of location. We hope that the Chinese company that is undertaking this project actively communicates with the relevant organs in the Mauritian government so as to solve the current problems and see the cooperation area off to a smooth start.
Host: A netizen named “如梦令” says that he knows that you were once the Chinese ambassador to Senegal, and wants to ask what was most memorable or what impressed you most about your experience in Senegal.
Lu Shaye: What impresses me most about Senegal is that even though it is small country, it is very active in international affairs, taking leadership positions in many international organizations. It also plays an important role in African affairs, and has, for example, led many United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa. When I asked some Senegalese why Senegal does this, they said that Senegal places much emphasis on the importance of education, so it has many skilled people. Senegal is also an open country that attaches great importance to participation in international affairs. I think that we can also learn from them on this point.
My most memorable experience from a professional perspective is from February 2009 when I hosted President Hu Jintao on his state visit to Senegal. This is because as an ambassador, having your head of state visit not only plays a significant role in promoting the development of China’s relations with the country you’re stationed in, but is also very helpful in advancing your diplomatic career.
Host: Because of time constraints, we will now ask the last question. Netizen “漂泊的海” wants to ask Mr. Lu the following question: The Olympic games have never been held in Africa. Which African country do you think is most likely to be the first to hold the Olympic games?
Lu Shaye: This depends on which countries bid to hold the Olympic games and also depends on the outcome of the International Olympic Committee’s vote. Africa has already hosted the FIFA World Cup, and I believe that Africa will one day host the Olympic games.
Host: China Daily.com is very happy to have hosted Mr. Lu today. Today’s interview has increased our understanding of African affairs — a topic in which everyone is interested. We are grateful that Mr. Lu made time in his busy schedule to come to China Daily.com.
Lu Shaye: I am also grateful that China Daily.com provided me with this opportunity and platform to talk to this large number of netizens. Time really flies, and I wish we had had more time to answer the netizens’ questions. The netizens also had many questions that they weren’t able to ask me; I hope that I have time to answer netizens’ questions in the future, so I can share more about what I know about Africa and my work on Africa.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the department of African affairs’ official microblog 直通阿非利加 to everyone. That is another platform that we use to introduce netizens to Africa and China-Africa relations. Today is the one-year anniversary of the microblog’s establishment, and we welcome everyone to follow and support it. Thank you!
[Trans.: China Daily published a heavily abridged and edited English version of this interview at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013Diplomats/]