Citizen Diplomacy within the Framework of Nigeria-China Relations: The Case of NICAF and CPAFFC



Nigeria’s foreign policy is gradually being complemented by citizen diplomacy as postulated by the late veteran patriot and Foreign Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe. The Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS) in Yaba, Lagos, is also increasingly serving as an instrumental platform for the actualisation of citizen diplomacy in Nigeria. For instance, the BOCIDASS played host to a six-man delegation from the China Association for Friendship (CAF) from Monday, 15th to Thursday, 18th May, 2017. The delegation was led by Mr. Sang Linyu.

The BOCIDASS platform not only provided the opportunity to hold a brainstorming session on Money Laundering and Counter-terrorism in West Africa, but also to articulate the challenges and prospects of regional security. More importantly, emphasis was placed on the need to promote the engagement of people-to-people understanding in the maintenance of regional peace and security, by particularly promoting a better entente and complementing the warm relationship between China and Nigeria, both of which are regional influential on their own rights.

In this regard, the Nigeria-China Friendship Association, (NICAF), founded by the late Ambassador Victor Chibundu in 1994, with which the BOCIDASS has also been collaborating since 2016, sent a four-man delegation to China on Wednesday, 13th September, 2017 on the kind invitation of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC). The delegation comprised Chief Jacob Wood, MFR, who succeeded Ambassador Chibundu as new the Chairman of the NICAF; Ambassador Gboyega Ariyo, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Namibia and currently the traditional ruler of Ibala in Osun State; Ambassador Oluwole Jonathan Coker, former Ambassador of Nigeria to China and former State Chief of Protocol; and Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa, a registered trustee and pioneer secretary of the NICAF.

NICAF’s visit to China took place against several interesting developments. First is the use of citizen diplomacy to complement official or government-to-government diplomacy in the quest for global economic development, as well as in the maintenance of regional peace and security in international relations. Citizen diplomacy is about people-to-people relations. Many developed countries, especially the People’s Republic of China, have developed citizen diplomacy to a level of admiration.

For instance, as explained by the President of the CPAFFC, the association is a ‘national people’s organisation engaged in people-to-people diplomacy of the People’s Republic of China. The aims of the association are to enhance people’s friendship, further international cooperation, safeguard world peace and promote common community and various countries around the world, lay and expand the social basis of friendly relations between China and other countries, and work for the cause of human progress and solidarity.’

More importantly, the association ‘implements China’s independent foreign policy of peace, observing the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, while carrying out all-directional, multi-level and broad-area people-to-people friendship work to serve the great cause of China’s peaceful development and reunification and contribute to the building of a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity.’

It is clear from the foregoing that people-to-people relationship is consciously conceived, designed, and desired to be a potent tool for the promotion of Chinese foreign policy interests. It is within this context that the roles and place of several friendship associations with foreign countries in China should be understood and that the raison d’être of NICAF’s visit to Beijing and Shanghai in China should also be explained. The visit was, indeed, a manifestation of citizen diplomacy per excellence. Explained differently, what do we mean by citizen diplomacy? How do we sustain citizen diplomacy as an instrument of official diplomacy? Perhaps, most importantly, how do we evolve the required linkages between the government and the people in foreign policy?

Nature of Citizen Diplomacy
John McDonald and Louis Diamond, we have noted elsewhere, have rightly argued that there are many ways of bringing people together in addition to official diplomacy, hence they talk about ‘multi-track diplomacy’. In this regard, they identified nine tracks or channels of conducting diplomacy: official diplomacy (often referred to as Track One Diplomacy); Unofficial diplomacy which involves the use of professional conflict resolution processes and considered as Track Two Diplomacy; international business negotiations and exchanges; citizen exchanges (lecturers, professionals, etc); international research, education, and training efforts; activism; contacts and exchanges between religious leaders and followers; international funding efforts; and public opinion and communication programs (vide Bola A. Akinterinwa, Nigeria’s Citizen Diplomacy: Theoretical Genesis and Empirical Exegesis (Ibadan: BIP, 2010), p. 58 et s)

From the foregoing, and using the scope of activity as defining criterion, it can be seen that the track one diplomacy that is official diplomacy, covers all issues in international relations while track two, which is the citizen diplomacy proper, covers professional conflict resolution processes. Explicated differently, citizen diplomacy is essentially about seeking resolution or prevention of disagreements. Track Three diplomacy seeks to promote good business relations through negotiations and exchanges.

Another criterion worthy of note is the categorisation of citizens. In the first three types of track diplomacy, public officials are essentially involved in official diplomacy, while people with conflict resolution skills are involved in Track Two and business stakeholders are engaged in Track Three. Citizen exchanges (Track Four Diplomacy) and track Five Diplomacy involving research and training, involve academics and professionals. Activism, exchanges between religious leaders, funding agents, public opinion makers, etc speak for themselves on who is involved.
Grosso modo, when looking at citizen diplomacy in practice, especially in terms of case studies, it is essentially about the engagement of people in the achievement of the foreign policy goals of their country with or without the support of government. For example, there is the role of the six-Japanese War Witnesses who visited Changchun in Jilin Province on Tuesday, 12th September, 2017 to promote peace by sharing oral histories of their Japanese invasion of China.

The Vice-president of the Sino-Japanese Oral History, Mr. Li Suzhen, said the six of them were all witnesses of the invasion and war. The average age of the six people is 83. The oldest is 93. The youngest is over 70 years of age (vide Han Junhong’s report, China Daily, Friday, September 15, 2017, p.5). This clearly suggests that any engagement in citizen diplomacy requires experience. It is not amateurish in nature. It is one in which old age is an advantage, and specialisation and expertise is also required.

The visit of the six witnesses took place in the week before the anniversary of the Mukden incident, which took place on September 18, 1931. The visit was to draw attention to the event that sparked Japan’s invasion of China. The objective is ‘to preserve peace and prevent war from happening again.’ Additionally, from the purpose of the visit, it can be seen that it is altruistic. It is peace seeking and it is particularly aimed at ensuring and securing a peaceable environment, without which development is not expected to take place. This is precisely what citizen diplomacy is generally meant to achieve: make the world free from threats to global peace and security in general, and ensure political stability, economic prosperity, and good governance at the national level, in particular.

Citizen diplomacy can be a manifestation of government-to-government or official diplomacy, especially when it is focused on the defence and protection of the national interest. For instance, an editorial opinion of China Daily has clearly shown that ignoring China’s security issue cannot be in the interest of the Republic of Korea (ROK). This observation, made at the level of the people, is that, in 2016, ties between Beijing and Seoul were strained by Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in total disregard for Beijing’s security concerns and protests.

At first, tourist attractions and shopping venues in the ROK remained packed with Chinese visitors for one week. As reported during that one week, the ROK saw 250,000 visits by Chinese visitors and many shopping venues registered double-digit growth in sales. So there were the erroneous claims that THAAD and souring official ties had no impact on tourists’ enthusiasm. However, it is expected that during the forthcoming Chinese national holiday, six million Chinese citizens are expected to travel abroad but the ROK may not be among their top 10 most favoured destinations, simply because of deterioration in the relationship, which is a resultant from the progress of THAAD deployment. Now that the entire THAAD is operational, it would be unrealistic to expect Beijing and Seoul to quickly rediscover their previous people-to-people support.

As noted further in the editorial, ‘on the heels of its talk embracing US strategic assets to counter threats from Pyongyang, the ROK military has more recently made public its intention to introduce the SM-3, or RIM-161 Standard Missile 3, a ship-based missile system known as a maritime version of THAAD. With the capacity to intercept enemy missiles, even satellites at higher altitudes, the SM-3 will further disturb regional security balance and invite strong protests from neighbouring countries. Corresponding information sharing with the United States and Japan will inspire suspicion that the ROK has finally joined the US missile defence regime. The ROK appears fully aware of the damaging potential. Its decision to go ahead displays an open disregard for China’s security concerns, for which it will logically receive reciprocal responses.’

The point being made here is that the people of China are reacting to the irritants in the official relations between their country and ROK. And more interestingly, whenever irritants exist at the level of the track one diplomacy, citizen diplomacy is an alternative approach to be considered, especially if there is a political lull at the level of official diplomacy. And without any iota of gainsaying, international relations is generally fraught with politics of self-deceit and intimidation.

It should be remembered, for instance, that, regardless of the open pretensions that China-US relations are cordial, the United States has done treaties with Japan and South Korea, particularly seeking denuclearisation. China’s main concern about this is not denuclearisation, but stability in the Korean peninsula. China is not happy with the United States and Taiwan Relations Act by which the United States is obligated to provide defensive weapons to Taiwan in the event of any Chinese attack, as well as assist the country if need be. Apart from the many issues of mistrust at the level of China-Russia relations, there are also the questions of China’s border dispute with India and concerns about possible inflow of terrorists, especially to Xinjiang.

As further explicated by the Chairman of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) in his opening remarks at a discussion on ‘Chinese Military Reform, 2013-2030,’ held on August 23, 2017, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ‘has not fought any sizable war since the 1979 Vietnam campaign, which raises the question: Is the PLA only a parade ground army?’

One possible answer provided by Lt. Col (retd) Dennis J. Blasko, a former Senior Fellow of the National Defence University and former US Military Attaché in Beijing, is that ‘the current military reform in China was first announced in 2013 with little detail. It gained momentum in late 2015 and is likely to continue on to 2020… The broad outline of the PLA modernisation programme is called the “three-step development strategy,” first published openly in 2006, with milestones in 2010 and another for 2020 – focusing on mechanisation and informationisation. According to Xi Jinping, the 2020 milestone has already been accomplished. However, the final date of completion of modernisation is mid-century or 2049.’

What is particularly noteworthy is that ‘the military being built under Xi Jinping has its goal to build a strong national defence, commensurate with China’s international standing, which is primarily economic.’ The Chinese want to replace the military that was established in 1927, which focused primarily on continental defence with a modern maritime force. However, the basic functions of the Chinese military will still remain war-fighting, deterrence (both conventional and nuclear), and non-military operations, such as disaster relief, participation in peace-keeping, etc. Explicated differently, about 70% of the 2.3 million personnel of the PLA was in the army, compared with the navy’s and marine force’s about 10% with 10-12,000 personnel.

In this case, how many Chinese people understand the foreign policy of their government? How many Nigerians can also lay claim to understanding Nigeria’s standpoint on several international questions? Without doubt, every citizen diplomat has a major role to play in the promotion of bilateral better understanding. It is in light of this that relationships between friendship associations are designed to assist in the maintenance of better understanding in international relations. And true enough the objective is being achieved in different ways, as clearly illustrated by NICAF’s visit to Beijing and Shanghai and the new foundations for the promotion of people-to-people relationship as a potent instrument in the projection of China-Nigeria foreign policies in international relations.

While the NICAF is the leading association promoting friendship with China in Nigeria, the CPAFFC is not only its counterpart in China, but also the leader and coordinator of the various friendship associations in China. Mme Wei Jing, Deputy Director of Putuo District Government and Mme. Jing Yingin of the Shanghai Municipal people’s Association for Friendship hosted the NICAF delegation on Friday, 15th September. The following day, the NICAF delegation visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre and the Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower. On the evening of the same day, it was the turn of the Secretary General of the CPAFFC, Mr. Sun Xueqing, to play host to the NICAF delegation.

On Monday, September 18, Mr Sang Linyu hosted the NICAF delegation which availed itself of the opportunity to also visit the Embassy of Nigeria. Two major features of the visit to China is the buffet dinner jointly hosted in honour of the NICAF by four former Chinese ambassadors to Nigeria: Wang Yusheng, Lv Fengding, Liang Yinzu and An Yongyu. The dinner took place at the Grand Hotel, Beijing.

The second main feature is the outcome of the various meetings held, especially with the Putuo District Government and the CPAFFC. For instance, the NICAF delegation requested for assistance in the area of vocational training in all the local government areas of Nigeria; restoration of direct flight between Nigeria and China, Chinese language training in the secondary schools; collaboration between herbal medicine practitioners in Nigeria and their Chinese counterparts; and establishment of small and medium scale industries in Nigeria. Agreement was reached in principle that the foregoing areas would be the starting point for further discussion. A memorandum of understanding was to be prepared by the NICAF, clearly articulating the areas, the operational modalities and the principles of the cooperation.

From the various discussions, there is no disputing the fact that the foundations for citizen diplomacy are being laid and the new responsibility of the NICAF as the vanguard in the promotion of better ties at the level of the people in Nigeria is no longer in doubt. The BOCIDASS, in the same vein, and being the platform for citizen diplomacy in Nigeria also has a major role, especially in terms of market surveys, opinion polls and consultancies for stakeholders in both countries.

The case of the NICAF and the CPAFFC in the context of citizen diplomacy is noteworthy and should therefore be encouraged. Discussions on roles of the people in cultivating good governance at all levels of management, maintenance of national peace and security, as well as evolvement of patriotic culture, hold regular meetings at the BOCIDASS. This means that many, if not most, of the critical issues of political governance in Nigeria can be easily addressed on a win-win basis within the framework of citizen diplomacy. Consequently, the NICAF’s visit to China is commendable and should be sustained.
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