Africa Today’s Conference on Nigeria-China Relations and Implications for Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Concentricism

Vie Internationale
with Bola A. Akinterinwa Telephone : 0807-688-2846 e-mail:

Africa Today, a monthly magazine published by Kayode Soyinka, held its 2016 Conference on China-Africa Trade and Investment Relations on Tuesday 26th and Wednesday, 27th April, 2016 at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.

The 2016 conference which not only underscored the timeliness and goodness in the development of closer ties with the Chinese, but also the need to cautiously sustain it in the spirit of making new friends and keeping the old for one is gold and the other is silver, was specifically aimed at investigating who really is the beneficiary of the relationship. More important, the need for better and well-defined rapprochement with China was the main point that cut across all the papers presented at the meeting because of the growing importance of China in Africa and globally.

The Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, H.E. Gu Xiaojie, says that ‘Nigeria is China’s number one engineering market, number two export market, number three trading partner and major investment destination in Africa.’ Sir Vince Cable, former Chief Economist of Shell Nigeria and former Secretary of State for the United Kingdom’s Trade and Business Policy, who was the Guest of Honour at the conference, explained the importance of China thus: ‘China has become the main source of overseas students in UK universities… China is now an economic superpower comparable in scale to the USA (and on some measures is bigger economically), with India now number 3 in the league table ahead of Japan and Germany… Nigeria specifically imports more from China than from its second and third largest suppliers – USA and India – combined (though Nigeria exports little in return.’

Dr. Frank Udemba Jacobs, MON, President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, had it that there were not less than 5,262 Chinese in Nigeria and that China’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria was US $85.8 million in 2013. It increased to US $116.87 million in 2014. The ‘cumulative Chinese investment in Nigeria currently stands at well over US $3 billion according to the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC).’

Chief Bassey E.O. Edem, the National President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA, submitted that the choice of China as a reference point ‘is perfect, considering China’s role as one of the world’s leading economies and by some indicators, the largest economy, if measured in purchasing power parity. Also, China is currently the world largest consumer of energy, which proves that China’s private sector-led economy is a growing one, especially in Manufacturing.’ Additionally, Chief Edem also noted that, ‘between 1979 and 2013, China’s GDP grew from $200 billion per year to $9.24 trillion with a compound annual growth of 11.9% and for the entire period of reform, China was a net importer of FDI.’

The MD/CEO of the Infrastructure Bank Plc, Mr. Adekunle AbdulRazak Oyinloye argued differently: ‘rather than debating the question of who benefits most, economic realities should be tilting us towards the question of how both countries can benefit more from trade, economic and political cooperation. He considered the relationship as that of ‘partnership of equals,’ in light of the fact that Nigeria and China have cheap and available labour, new markets and opportunity for mutual growth. Besides, China’s medium-term allocation of resources focused on strengthening African economies which are required for the building of a strong China. In fact, Oyinloye further argued that African countries have an opportunity to insist on a fairer price for China’s excess capacity and excess capital.

Perhaps most thought-provokingly, Waheed A. Olagunju, the Executive Director (Small and Medium Enterprises) the Bank of Industry, recalled that in 1970 the GDP per capita ranking for Nigeria was 88 compared to 114th position for China. Today, China is the second largest economy in the world with about $11.3 trillion as at the end of Quarter-1 of 2016, just coming behind the US with $17trillion. Nigeria is currently the 22nd largest economy in the world and the largest in Africa with a size of over $568 billion. In fact, as pointed out by Olagunju, while China’s total trade with Africa peaked at $222 billion by December 2014, the total trade volume between Nigeria and China grew about 800%, from $860 million in 2000 to $7.7 billion in 2010 and $13 billion in 2014.

Probably troubled with this situational reality, Ken Ukaoha, President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders asked a number of questions in his paper: Can we ignore China? No was the answer. Is Nigeria important to China? The answer was yes. Is china a friend or foe? Ken Ukaoha explained that 83% of goods imported to Nigeria came from the Asian Tigers of which China accounted for 71.3%. Thus China cannot be a foe in this regard.

But how have the Chinese been able to come up with this miracle? Associate Professor Howard French of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of Columbia gave one rationale: Chinese policy of self-reappraisal, autarky (self-reliance), and work discipline. He argued that Chinese leap forward is largely traceable to her policy of ‘going out and openness to the world’ to allow for competition under Deng Xiaopin, who succeeded Mao Zedong in the late 1970s. More interestingly, he noted that if Nigeria is to succeed and become an economic power, she would need to have strategic objectives, plan and design in her dealings with China, as well as seriously promoting regional integration in West Africa to begin with.

Other Matters Arising
Many issues were raised in the papers presented and general discussion: the arrival of China as a new superpower and its implications for Africa and Africa’s traditional allies; capacity of African countries, and particularly of Nigeria, to take advantage of Chinese good disposition to develop Africa; trade imbalance in favour of China, quality of Chinese products, and management of relations of rivalry between China and the US in the near future.

On the issue of China as a superpower, Sir Vince Cable, former Chief Economist of Shell Nigeria and former Secretary of State for the United Kingdom’s Trade and Business Policy, presented China as an ‘economic superpower,’ implying that China has actually not fully arrived as a superpower. The conception of a superpower from the Western point of view is any country that has the capacity and capability for self-projection globally and in all domains, especially militarily, economically, politically and culturally. In this regard, there is nothing yet to suggest that China does not have the capacity and capability for self-projection in all spheres.

Besides, it is important to note China’s definition of a superpower. Former Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping noted in his address to the UN General Assembly on April 10, 1974 that ‘a superpower is an imperialist country which everywhere subjects other countries to its aggression, interference, control, subversion or plunder and strives for world hegemony… Socialist China will never (emphasis mine) change her colour and will always stand by the oppressed peoples and oppressed nations.’ Chairman Mao also made it clear that China would not sell arms and ammunition to other countries but would provide them free of charge whenever needed for anti-imperialism purposes.’ As pointed out by Professor Ogunsanwo, China had fully built up, trained and equipped the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force without collecting one dollar in return. The important point on which there is the need to reflect deeply is whether the Chinese are actually not, by force majeure, becoming what they never anticipated to be. Put differently, when not will China not become a superpower à l’américaine?

Regarding capacity and capability of Nigeria, it exists even in abundance. However, public officials have a lackadaisical attitude to very serious problems that warrant urgent and dedicated attention. For instance, at the same Africa Today conference, many Ministers of government were invited to attend but did not. If the Ministers could not attend because their attention was also needed elsewhere, why were they not represented? Even when one of them was represented, the speech of the Minister was read and immediately after, the representative left the conference without bothering to know the viewpoint of the audience.

Under normal circumstance, in any intellectual meeting dealing with policy, the representative of the Minister must not only represent punctually but also actively participate from the beginning to the end of the meeting and submit an official report for documentation and future purposes. Most unfortunately, this is never the case with Nigerian officials. Consequently, it is quite difficult to suggest that Nigeria can easily take advantage of China’s good disposition towards her.

Again, on the issue of emerging rivalry between China and the US, it is very likely that Africa will be divided, one group supporting China and the other supporting the US. Nigeria is not likely to be the friend of one and the enemy of the other or vice versa. Both countries have strategic interests in Nigeria and there cannot but be need to maintain a balance of errors or terror, friendship or enmity on both sides. Sir Vince Cable has a useful point here: ‘although China looms very large in terms of trade and is a rapidly growing source of foreign investment, its stock of foreign investment in Africa is only around 5% of the total.

It has an embryonic and rapidly growing aid programme but it accounts for only around 4% of development assistance to Africa (but 12% of commercial loans.’ This means that the traditional allies are still more relevant than the Chinese. And true enough, Sir Vince Cable cannot be more correct if we remember that Africa’s development partners currently account for more than 90% of funding of Africa’s development projects. In spite of this, Africa currently believes more in the Chinese than in the Euro-American partners.

As noted by the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, who was represented by the Deputy Chief of Mission at the conference, the Chinese ‘want transition from trade pattern that has so far been dominated by resource products to more investment and industrial cooperation.

By encouraging more Chinese businesses to invest in Africa, we want to help the continent accelerate its industrialization and boost its capacity for development.’ Perhaps more significantly, China ‘will firmly implement the policy of “sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith” towards Nigeria and Africa, uphold the correct viewpoint of righteousness and benefit, join hands with Nigeria for win-win cooperation and persist in planning and promoting bilateral relations from a strategic and long-term perspective.’ If we take a close look at this pronouncement, the seriousness and commitment of purpose is evident even if the Chinese might be playing politics with it. The truth is that African leaders appear to attach much importance to the policy statement.

The Chinese also appear to know how to manage their affairs better than the traditional partners in Africa, especially by always drawing attention to one African proverb or to their own. The African proverb is that if you want to walk fast, ‘go alone’ but if you want to go far ‘walk together’. This is precisely what the Chinese are doing, by particularly reconciling this with their own proverb, ‘when big rivers have water, the small ones are filled and when small rivers do not have water the big ones are dried up.’ This means one needs the two hands to rub one another if there is to be win-win cooperation.

Implications for Foreign Policy Concentricism
Nigeria’s foreign policy is currently partly guided by concentricism and citizen diplomacy with which we are not much concerned here. However, it should simply be noted that citizen diplomacy, as defined by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, CFR, requires that the interest of Nigerians in any foreign policy endeavour be first factored into every foreign policy calculation. This means that citizen diplomacy conveniently constitutes the other side of constructive and beneficial concentricism.

Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Foreign Minister from 1983 to 1985, introduced concentricism, a derivation from concentric circles and a mathematical concept applied in many social disciplines, as a foreign policy thrust to guide foreign policy making. Concentricism involves the prioritization of foreign policy operational areas.

In other words, which area or areas of the world should be given priority in terms of strategic calculations and importance? Professor N.S. Northedge has said that the farther a circle of interest is from the centre point, the less important the circle, that is, the less willing a State will be in securing its interests in the periphery to the detriment of other national interests in the middle range or core circles.

For the purposes of operational importance, Nigeria’s foreign policy divides the world into four main concentric circles: the innermost, consisting of Nigeria and all her immediate neighbours. The next outer circle comprises the other countries in the West African region. The rest of Africa constitutes the third outer circle while the rest of the world constitutes the fourth outermost circle. Thus China is currently in the fourth outermost circle with the traditional allies of Nigeria. However, China now constitutes a special area of interest and importance likely to have its own operational circle of focus to which special attention cannot but be given in the foreseeable future.

This special circle or area within the outermost circle can be called ‘Sinocentricism’ or the ‘Sinocentric Circle.’ In fact, it can be rightly set aside as the fourth outer concentric circle while the global world now becomes the fifth and outermost circle because of the special new emphasis being given to Nigeria’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. In this regard, if China is to remain with other allies in the existing fourth outermost circle, then China is very likely to become the primus inter pares in the circle.

Secondly, the existence of a fourth outer circle in which the Chinese are likely to have exclusive reign cannot but raise the issue of where to place China in the circles and how relate with the traditional partners of Nigeria, especially the European Union and the United States, which will now be in the fifth outermost circle, and therefore, less important than the relationship with China in terms of strategic calculations in the foreseeable future.

Thirdly, Nigeria’s current relations with China also raise some indeterminable challenges at the level of relationships with the traditional allies. Development assistance from Europe and America cannot just be written away with the stroke of the pen as philosophy, lifestyle, model of governance, etc, are still largely westernized in Nigeria.

How will the United States, the United Kingdom and other allies react to the new Sino-Nigerian entente? The implications are not yet foreseeable but Nigeria’s courage to seek new means of livelihood and survival is in order and commendable as loan-taking and currency swap are common features in international relations. The relationship is currently that of win-win cooperation. As at December 2015, for instance, China has signed agreements on Currency Swap with 31 Central Banks.

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