The Chinese Prince and the Starving Tigers

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

As one would expect from such IT persons, the duo of Mr Ye Zhenzhen, the CEO of People’s Daily Innovation and Mr David Chen, Vice President of Microsoft, dazzled their audience with the coming world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the implications for the new media age. This was at a discussion session last Tuesday evening in Dunhuang, Gansu Province of Western China. But it was a personal story told by Ye that really got me. He recounted what happened when he was five years old, growing up in his village that had no electricity.

According to Ye, at that period, the entire community decided to contribute money to buy a generator. After that, it took several weeks to get an engineer that would help them power it. And then on D-Day, all the children were gathered for a lecture on the danger of touching the electric bulb. They were regaled with tales of a tiger that could be unleashed from inside the bulb. When, after the session, I asked Ye for his age, he said 41. “So the event you recounted happened about 36 years ago?” He answered in the affirmative. He also gave the name of his village as Longtanxia near Wenzhou city in Zhenjiang Province, Southeast China even as he told me of how prosperous most of his people have now become.

That a society in such stage of development less than four decades ago can advance to the level China is today bears eloquent testimony to visionary leadership and a strong commitment by the people to work for progress. It is also a pointer that there is no limit to how far Nigeria can still go if we are determined to change our narrative despite the failings of the past. The challenge, however, is that when other societies are thinking ahead on how to advance the good of their citizenry, some people in our country are more interested in dancing with pythons, smiling with crocodiles and generally playing some monkey games.

That explains why we are still squabbling, essentially over the sharing of unearned income from a perishing commodity that may soon become useless. But we must learn lessons from other societies lest we surrender our future to the kind of deprivation that can only breed violence. From last Sunday to Tuesday, I joined 264 other journalists from 126 countries across all continents in Dunhuang, Gansu Province of Western China, to participate at the 2017 Media Cooperation Forum on Belt and Road. First held in 2014, this year’s edition is considered the largest concentration of senior journalists, representing different countries, ever assembled anywhere in the world.

At the opening ceremony on Tuesday, ten of us gave keynote speeches: Mr. Otis Bilodeau, Senior Executive Editor, Bloomberg News Asia Pacific, United States; Mr. Guy Zitter, Senior Advisor, Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), United Kingdom; Mr. Masood Malik, Managing Director, Associated Press of Pakistan Corporation, Pakistan; Mr. José Vera, President, Agencia EFE, Spain; Mr Negoitsa, General Director, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Russia; Mr. Alejandro Esquivel, General Director, Notimex News Agency, Mexico; Ms. Lee Huay Leng, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd., Singapore; Mr. Stephen Rae, Group Editor-in-Chief, Independent News & Media (INM), Ireland; Mr. Mansour Abo Alazzm, Managing Editor, Al-Ahram Newspaper, Egypt and myself.

In my presentation, I alluded to the fact that at a period in history when some leaders are desperately bent on erecting walls across borders, it is noteworthy that China has decided that building bridges, opening new horizons and forging strategic partnerships are the way to go. This, of course, is in line with the vision of President Xi Jinping, who said in his speech at Davos early this year that “pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room”. But can he walk his talk?

Colin Mackerras, a Professor Emeritus at the Griffith University in Australia-—whose relationship with China dates back to the mid-sixties when he spent two years in the country teaching English and learning Mandarin at one of their universities—said there is a lot of pessimism about the Belt and Road initiative in the West. But Mackerras also added that the idea stands a good chance of success because it is coming at a period “when the US-led globalization is in retreat and getting weaker while China is getting stronger. It is a positive development.” He predicted that in the next few decades the impact of the initiative would be huge.

With a vision to create the needed physical and digital connections across Europe, Asia and Africa by breaking trade barriers and deploying the power of technology, China envisions opening the space for expanding inclusive economic growth and diplomatic ties on a global scale. And by targeting no fewer than 4.4 billion people across 69 countries that have already signed on, Belt and Road initiative will directly touch more than 60 percent of the total global population . What that means in essence is that an unprecedented investment window will be open for shared prosperity among peoples in several countries at different stages of development.

While it can be argued that this is merely aspirational given contemporary international realities, there is no doubt that China is serious to project its power and in such a strategic manner that it will also benefit immensely from the new economic order it envisions. In his presentation on Tuesday, the Chairman, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, Mr Zheng Bijian, said two roads have diverged for the world and every country now has a choice as to which one to travel: that of protectionism which he dismissed as offering no solution or that of a common destiny of innovation, productivity and shared benefits across boundaries. This, according to Zheng, is the road President Xu has decided to take China with the Belt and Road initiative launched in 2013.

For me, what worries is that Africa is not positioning itself very well to take advantage of the opportunities that the initiative offers in this increasingly interdependent world, especially given the growing presence of China in most countries across the continent. While I am aware of some of their transport infrastructure projects in East Africa, there is need for a more coherent African strategy. This is because the more the number of countries connected under this initiative, the more easily triggered for collective development they will become. What that therefore entails for Africa is that we need to open the space for economic integration even among ourselves so as to enjoy a better bargaining power and the advantage of scale.

Meanwhile, as one would expect in a gathering of journalists, the state of the profession in the new age was also discussed and there are clear apprehensions on the future of the traditional media. The consensus was that newspapers must adapt or die. In his contribution, Mr Thomas Shefeit, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of “wiener zeitung”, a newspaper founded in Vienna in 1703 (original name, “wienerisches diarium”) illustrated the point on the evolution of the media. A December 1726 edition of his paper, bromide of which he has kindly sent to me on request, published a story about a meeting between a group of monks from the Hungarian Empire and the Chinese Emperor. The big deal is that the event reported happened in October 1725 which means that it took 14 months between when the story was written and when it was eventually published; yet it still hit page one!

Altogether, it has been an exciting time in China. From Dunhuang, we are now back to Beijing where some of us still have functions to attend, including a meeting this afternoon with a Chinese state leader at the Great Hall of the People before the farewell dinner later tonight.

On Monday in Dunhuang, we visited the Mogao grottoes where we encountered some ancient Chinese civilizations dating back to the fourth century. As we were conducted round the caves, I was particularly fascinated by the image of a prince who reportedly came across some tigers who were on the throes of death as a result of hunger. According to what we were told—and please believe me, this is no fake news—the compassionate prince simply offered himself as a meal to those famished tigers!

Beginning from year October 2000 when Charles Onunaiju and I were invited to cover the first Sino-African conference in Beijing at the instance of the Chinese embassy in Nigeria, this is my 6th time in the country. And having learnt very early in my journalism career never to take anything at face value, I am quite aware that there are still some fundamental contradictions within the Chinese society. But what fascinates me about the country is that, at every epoch, there are deliberate efforts by their authorities not only to create wealth on a large scale but also to ensure a measure of equitable distribution so that more and more of their citizens can be lifted from poverty to prosperity.

As I noted in my speech on Tuesday in Dunhuang, the amazing Mogao caves are more than just treasure trove of ancient caverns; they speak to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Chinese monks of old who could carve such a long stretch of caves right into the cliff. With the incredible temples from stone carvings said to have been the efforts of only 355 monks, they also teach that enduring societies result from the sacrifices of people who, at some points in history must be prepared to pay the price, people around whom myths and legends can be built.

Given the foregoing, the goal of nation building is not necessarily to impose order on diverse peoples but rather to build consensus around forging a community where all can prosper and live together in peace despite their differences. Therefore, the lesson I keep learning from my interactions with China is that there is nothing we cannot achieve if we are ready to work together as a team in pursuit of a common goal. And that lesson will serve us well in Nigeria, especially at this most difficult period in our history.

Take a Bow, Pius!
With a 1992 First Class Bachelor degree in French from the University of Ilorin and a Master’s degree (with distinction) in the same discipline from the University of Ibadan before bagging his doctorate, also in French Studies, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, Pius Adesanmi has really come a long way in the academic world. And all within a relatively short time too. Now a professor of English language and Literature at Carleton University, Canada and head of the university’s Institute of African Studies, Adesanmi was last week named the recipient of the prestigious Canada Bureau of International Education (CIBE) Leadership Award. As we say in THISDAY: More to follow! Congratulations, my brother.

  • FrNinja

    The Chinese are the only great power investing in Africa with confidence. From hydro-electric power plants to expressways to railroads the Chinese have done more in less than 10 years to develop the infrastructure of Africa than the old colonial powers Britain and France.

    Of course, with such interest comes suspicion. What is in it for China? Perhaps Africans should spend more time studying the dragon, learning its language, expanding its diplomatic and economic engagement with the Chinese.And for this there needs to be a mindshift. Countries like Nigeria should throw out its colo-mentality. For example, despite the fact that China is Nigeria’s largest trading partner and has over $10 billion in loans with the country for airports, railroads and power plants it took President Buhari 11 months to visit China. While the Chinese have mastered global contract manufacturing, Nigeria has never engaged the Chinese on establishing such in Nigeria.

    • Orphic

      Africans should not be too suspicious about China. What’s in it for China? China is engaged in a geo-strategic game with the West! It is that wrestling match that focuses the attention of Chinese policy makers, and the Chinese by creating alliances across the developing world are ensuring their future prosperity, not plotting the conquest of Africa.

      To paraphrase Nnamdi Azikwe’s analogy, with China, Africa from being the neglected N10 whore of the west becomes a beautiful attractive economic bride.
      Unfortunately many Africans are too used to economic whoring and cannot see themselves or perceive others seeing them as anything more!

      The West is a formidable adversary whose economic dominance is recognised by all to be waning. The West, in the form of the US, has reacted politically by electing Trump. His mandate is clear and unequivocal, MAGA (Make America Great Again). And who has weakened America in Trump’s eyes? China.

      In this chessboard or scheme of things Africans should realise that they can serve as allies of an emerging power in its struggle with the incumbent or continue under the yoke of the incumbent power.

      China presents an opportunity for Africa. For African countries like Ethiopia that have grasped China with both hands and no attendant paranoia or suspicion, the evidence and results are clear, 10+% year on year growth, increased industrialisation, infrastructure development and so on. For those like Nigeria and the colonially yoked francophone, who have reacted with suspicion, the same soporific growth, commodity economy and commodity price collapse.

      China represents Africa’s best post colonial opportunity to escape both the debt trap and the unfair post-colonial economic framework.
      It never ceases to amaze me that Africans would even begin to quibble about China, but as Harriet Tubman – the conductor of the slave underground escape route, stated “I would have saved more Negroes from slavery if only I could convince them that their slavery was not the natural order of things”!

      • FrNinja

        Another adage warns one to be wary of strangers bearing gifts. For it is also true that ever since the Chinese showed up African elephants became an endangered species.

        • Orphic

          Yes, there is good cause to be wary because previously two strangers, consecutively the Arab and the European, have come to our shores bearing religion and gifts. The former never left and has no intention of leaving! The Chinese at least bring no false religion and are not planning on settlement conquest.

  • Mystic mallam

    Segun has offered us a feast of fresh ideas on the ways China is steadily taking over the world, Africa in particular. He thinks we could follow suit and be counted among those preparing for life in the fast approaching era of Artificial Intelligence. All that is good, and we can talk about it at another time. From Simon’s take, what does stand out for Nigeria at this moment in time to which I wholly subscribe is this nugget: – ”the goal of nation building is not necessarily to impose order on on diverse peoples but rather to build consensus around forging a community where all can prosper in live together in peace despite their differences.” Now, all regular consumers of Simon’s op-eds would agree with me that our dear Mr Segun Adeniyi has at last seen the light; he had to travel all the way to China to discover what we had been singing about here at home in the past many years – that Nigeria is not working simply because our rulers have obstinately refused to embark on building that CONSENSUS that forges a community of willing participants in the creation [not sharing] of wealth and prosperity which in turn, provides a stake for diverse peoples to seek to live in peace and harmony. I hope Segun can, now that he has seen the light, begin afresh to abandon fence-sitting, and start to write constructively and unequivocally on the urgent need for this govt to establish the platform for our diverse peoples to negotiate their differences and reach that elusive CONSENSUS we direly need for the longevity and success of our union.

    • Obi Ike Sorres

      People like you are trying . Day in day out you sing this on this platform. You and others but I salute you all for still maintaining your ground and never quitting. I hardly comment except reply the outrageous or applaud a good one. Thanks for still standing.

      • Mystic mallam

        Thanks Mr Sorres, but you already know that quitters never win, and winners never quit. If I am sure about anything, like day following the night, it’s a restructured Nigeria, irrespective of present opposition.

        • Dan

          Yet this consensus/nation building was ignored for over 16 years under PDP rule and we didn’t hear the hue and cry. But now, it is being touted by acolytes of referendum and self actualization. i hope we can see the hypocrisy.

          • Mystic mallam

            Mr Dan, are you suggesting we should all rot in the hole by digging deeper, simply because the previous diggers didn’t stop digging?

  • Fowad

    In China, capitalism is mixed with socialist ethos. Nigeria’s pseudo capitalism has no human face. China approaches leadership choice with care, to maintain state-society balance the Chinese way. Not ready to take dictation from America and Britain about good governance. Nigeria pretends that democracy has solved all problems. Liberal democracy has its own problems, and we can see why the Chinese have been cautious.
    They have a strong state and a powerful civilisation that can help them maintain resistance against unmitigated external influences.
    This is the best time to work with China. We have a lot to learn from them. They are bursting with developmental energy. Their civilisation is on the upward swing, and they have skilled personnel in every field of endeavour now.
    We have to think big. To collectively think big. We must always be ready to prune our political system of dregs and time wasters.
    The Chinese have no business with time wasters. Let us hope that Nigerians will bring good transformative lessons from China and use thier junkets there wisely. They won’t like us to waste their time.

  • Cheta God

    While the world outside is progressing and trying to better the lot of it’s people, PMB flew to New York aboard our presidential jet and was at the UN pleading for Muslims in Muyamar, Yemen, Palestine, h accepting aid from Jordan, etc. What is wrong with Nigeria? Must we play the religious card always? This explains why we are where babaringa has kept us.

  • Gary

    In your effusive praise of China, Mr. Adeniyi, please remember that the Chinese people still live under an atheist one-party rule and a tightly controlled media and digital censorship. While they were selling you on the notion of having Africa replace the hegemony of the West with that of the East via trade and aid, the Chinese Communist Party was cracking down on the growing influence of the Church by shutting down churches and arresting priests who did not clear their sermons with the authorities before delivering them to their congregations.

    That is the China you visited. Same China that is now strangling the autonomy and freedoms it promised to the residents of Hong Kong. Yes, in two decades plus, China has bought, borrowed and even stolen technology from the West who as Marx once said, would gladly sell a noose with which a Communist will hang them.
    And with the contraction of American influence in world affairs, thanks to Donald Trump, the Chinese are now aggressively asserting themselves to lead a post-Bretton Woods global order.
    Hope you had these realities in mind as you join Nigerian officialdom embracing the Tiger from the East as our new creditor-nation and neo-colonial overlord in Africa.

    Just wondering too, if you asked the Chinese if their plans for Nigerian Rail network will go beyond locomotives from last century to provide the MagLev technology bullet trains that will allow the middle class pouring into Lagos from everywhere to maybe consider living in Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode and commuting to work in Eko in 40 minutes. As they say, if we must the Chinese frog, then we might as well eat the fat and juicy one. Like the Americans did for South Korea.

    • okbaba

      Don’t you think we will one day be offering ourselves to the hungry Chinese tigers? Guess Segun did not see that coming…

    • Michael Kadiri SocioPolitical

      Gary.
      I agree with you.
      China is colonising Africa. And these events are about selling their agenda.
      But the criticism of their governance must be tempered with further audit.
      China atheist leadership and control of media and one party system continues to work for China and tells me that this cut and paste democracy that we practice in Nigeria should be reconsidered to something that best suits us. The Chinese system has lifted the equivalent of nearly half of Africa’s population out of poverty. You should study the Chinese political system and you will understand that frank exchange of ideas and opinion does take place.
      Trust me, every country that is successful maintains order. In the West, you are lured into a feeling that you are free. The reality is when or if you have the unfortunate experience of facetiming with governance then you will discover that the primary purpose is control. Much of it is unseen and unnoticed. The Chinese model defines things more clearly. These super powers always gorge on the resources of other smaller countries and China is not doing what other empire builders have not done before it.
      Life is about smokes and mirrors and evidently we who live under a copy copy western style democracy are ending up as the slaves of our colonial masters.

      • Gary

        I’m neither unaware nor discounting the huge socio-economic strides China has made since the slate Deng Xiaoping decided to forego Mao’s doctrinaire Communism for Western Capitalism. Whilst maintaining the sole dominance of Chinese Communist Party.
        It has worked for them. But comes at a price of abridging political and social freedoms. That is the cost we must be clear-headed enough to ask if we are willing to pay. Adeniyi is also active and does not shy from promoting his Redeemed Church affiliation on his column. So he will have to consider the likely impact of an Atheist State on his faith just like Akin Ambode accepts one party, political godfatherism as the price to pay to govern Lagos State. Lagos is far from being a liberal, multiparty democratic state where the popular will is not subordinated to the whims and caprices of a Capo. That is the reality of the politics of the state.

        So if we decide to go the China route, then we must go back to the OBJ-PDP attempt at entrenching one party rule and not only a Third but Multiple Term agenda for an all-knowing and all-wise ruler or bunch of guys whose words and wishes, corrupt or not, will be the law.
        Then hope that we become the African China or Singapore within two decades. But knowing what I know of the knaves and philistines who have dominated the political landscape of Nigeria, I’m not holding by breath that I will live to see that day.

  • Okafor Sunday Chime

    Good piece my bro.If China could be so prosperous in such a short time I believe our nation Nigeria with forward thinking leadership can do as much.

    • share Idea

      Did you read that China applied one set of rule for a particular part of their country while using different standard for the other. When China applied one family one child it was applied to all and when disobeyed the set out punishment is applied without checking whether it was Sultan, Igwe, Governor or Bishop.

      Nigeria is not one. Hence, development will keep eluding us till we become one (which I doubt), and agree on common principles to govern ourselves.

      • remm ieet

        What you are saying is that China has no respect of persons. They cannot even imagine running their country the way we run Nigeria. They must be appalled at the way Nigeria is a free for all country. They think we are perpetually an underperforming machine

  • Darcy

    “In my presentation, I alluded to the fact that at a period in history when some leaders are desperately bent on erecting walls across borders”

    LOL! Has the China taken even up to 1% of the refugees and immigrants the US has??

    I understand though, criticise the CCP, and odds are….

    • Orphic

      Of the immigrants you’re talking about, How many were non-white? Remember descendants of black slaves are excluded! Please, google is your friend, look up the Chinese Exclusion Act or Executive ‘Japanese Internment’ Order 9066, issued of February 19, 1942!

      “The US Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia.”

      • Darcy

        Are you joking?

        The USA has taken more immigrants including non-whites, and or poor than China *full stop*

        It has taken more refugees. That was my point, I have neither time nor patience to indulge what is no doubt another round of America bashing.

        • Orphic

          Where are you getting your data from? How many Koreans do you think China absorbed during the Korean war? How many Vietnamese and Laotians do you think streamed over China’s border as a result of the Vietnam war? The numbers are in the millions.

          You think because you read US media that it is the only country that takes refugees? I’m not America bashing, this is a Nigerian newspaper just in case you’re lost!

          • Darcy

            The USA is 72% white. China is 91% Han. If you can’t see the difference, then I don’t really know what to say.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_China

          • Orphic

            Why deceive ourselves? The fact that the US is multicultural – which is what you are alluding to, is incidental. That is, it was not planned and every effort was made to prevent it.
            If you visited the US in the 50’s and 60’s, you would have visited a country with no rights for non-whites i.e. African and Native Americans.

            Countries in the Americas like Canada and to a lesser extent Argentina that did not participate in the slave trade are almost 90% white. China did not take slaves from Africa or anywhere else, so its population has remained ethnically Chinese.

            Remember what you originally said, “LOL! Has the China taken even up to 1%…”. To profane China for not being multicultural along American lines is like cursing the Chinese for not engaging in the African slave trade.
            The fact that the Chinese are ethnically homogeneous is not a fault as you present it, but an attribute of their historical reluctance to interfere with other peoples. This is admirable for it shows that in their renewed interest in Africa – which is what the article is about, they are not going to settle here, land grab and/or proselytise their religion like Arabs and Europeans.
            Also they do not have a race based superiority like Europeans who believe skin colour should be the judge of a man’s life fortune or intelligence. They have so far offered Africa the technology and investments, that Europeans have expensively denied them. You think Africans would be able to afford smartphones to access the internet without the Chinese? How much is an Apple iPhone?

            Those who fail to learn or understand the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them! Worshipping the White man is the bane of Africans.

          • Darcy

            The Chinese did buy slaves, but not on the scale of the Europeans, and that was driven by geography and Economics.

            You seem to want an argument, that I’m just simply too tired to have.

          • Orphic

            No, I don’t want an argument. You put up a comment, and I replied politely and without rancour, with a counter view.
            I don’t agree with your view, “The Chinese did buy slaves…” at least in so far as it suggests African slaves. There is no historical evidence for that assertion.

            I leave you with the Qing Emperor Qian Long’s 1793 letter to King George III of England;

            “… Hitherto, all European nations, including your own country’s barbarian merchants, have carried on their trade with our Celestial Empire at Canton.

            Such has been the procedure for many years, although our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.

            But as the tea, silk and porcelain which the Celestial Empire produces, are absolute necessities to European nations and to yourselves, we have permitted, as a signal mark of favour, that foreign hongs [merchant firms] should be established at Canton, so that your wants might be supplied and your country thus participate in our beneficence. . .”

            A Chinese Emperor asserts that he wants nothing from outsiders!

          • Darcy

            They did buy slaves. But like I said, not in the numbers that the Europeans did.

            https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/search?q=china+slaves&restrict_sr=on&include_over_18=on

            Here is a long thread for you to peruse. I apologise for my flippancy, normally I’m more willing to engage, but exam stress, and the need to quickly scroll through the web, before hitting the books again.

            I hope we run into each again.

          • Orphic

            Thank you for the reference, although I will add that it is not conclusive because Guangzhou (known as Canton to British merchants) – where these slaves were reputedly sighted, was the designated base for foreign merchants.
            Foreign maritime trade in China was regulated through the Canton System or the “Single port commerce system”, which restricted foreigners to a particular port city.
            Your source sights black slaves in Canton, in the same way Black people were found at the time in Liverpool (a port city). As the Chinese did not operate an ocean going navy or a merchant fleet, the likely explanation is that these slaves arrived in China as ship crew members/servants along with Arab and European merchants.
            Your source does not tell us numbers, but the presence of even a couple of black men in China would have generated widespread curiosity as to be recorded.
            Your source tells us that “most rich Cantonese households kept African slaves”, it doesn’t expressly state that these households were Chinese. This point is important, as the richest merchants (and households) in Canton were in fact foreigners.
            James Clavell’s novel Tai Pan, although a fictional interpretation, is based on actual origins of the British company Jardine Matheson and the Hong Kong and Shanghai (HSBC) Bank. It gives an idea of the numbers and wealth of foreign merchants in Canton, such that they gave cause to the British government to intervene on their behalf in the Opium wars.
            I would treat your source with caution, considering the above facts.