The Charge d'Affaire of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, Zhao Yong, in this interview with BUKOLA OGUNSINA, said Nigeria is China's third largest trading partner after South Africa and Angola. The envoy spoke on China, Nigeria relations in times of COVID-19, cooperation between both countries in terms of infrastructural projects, Hong Kong matters and some of China's visa policies among other issues.
I've noticed that September 3rd this year is an important day, can you tell us the significance of this day?
On September 3, China held the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. We bear history in mind, honour all those who laid down their lives, cherish peace and open up the future.
75 years ago on September 3, the people of China, together with the rest of humanity, finally won a total victory against fascism through unbreakable will and a brave fight. It was a great victory over the evil, darkness and reaction. That day also marked a great victory for the unyielding Chinese people who had fought tenaciously for 14 years and finally defeated the Japanese militarist aggressors.
The war is the Chinese people's longest and largest fight against foreign aggression in modern times, which came with the greatest sacrifice but led to Chinese people's first complete victory in national liberation.
What is the present cooperation as regards tangible projects undertaken by both China and Nigeria?
China and Nigeria have enjoyed excellent relations. In April 2016, President Buhari paid a successful state visit to China. In September 2018, President Buhari attended the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). During the two visits, President Xi Jinping and President Buhari held fruitful bilateral talks and reached consensus to deepen China-Nigeria cooperation across-the-board. Under the guidance of this important consensus, China-Nigeria relations have entered a new stage of rapid development.
As the largest developing country in the world, China highly values her relations with Nigeria, the largest developing country in Africa. Indeed, China-Nigeria cooperation is brotherly South-South cooperation between equal partners, and has always been a pacesetter for China-Africa cooperation. China remains committed to stepping up its mutually beneficial cooperation with Nigeria in the areas of infrastructure, agriculture, manufacture, trade, telecommunication and etc.
Just take some projects of China-Nigeria cooperation for example. The Abuja-Kaduna Railway, the first phase of the Nigerian Railway Modernisation Project, has been commissioned in and operating smoothly since July, 2016. It is the first modern standard gauge railway not only in Nigeria but also in West Africa. Since its commission, the railway has transported millions of commuters between the two metropolises, with a safe and comfortable experience in barely two hours.
Soon to be commissioned is the Lagos-Ibadan Railway, which is the second phase of the Railway Modernisation Project. In the near future, cargoes and passengers in Lagos may travel all the way up to Kano in express trains.
Chinese companies are here to help Nigeria expand or rebuild airport terminals of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. And the new airport terminals of Port Harcourt and Abuja have already been commissioned and put into use.
A Chinese company is also here to help Nigeria build its biggest hydro-power plant, located in Zungeru, Niger State. Promisingly in 2021, once finished, this 700-Megawatt-plant will boost Nigeria's hydropower generation capacity by 30 per cent, providing Nigerian households and factories with clean and emission-free energy.
Besides infrastructure projects, many factories are built with the joint-venture of both Nigerian and Chinese investors. House appliances, construction materials, shoes and many other commodities have been manufactured and sold domestically and throughout West Africa. They are all "Made in Nigeria" products with Chinese know-how and technology.
No one can deny that those projects have directly created hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for Nigerians and more jobs created indirectly, training local employees with knowledge and skills, and boosting the local economies.
What are the cooperations between China and Nigeria as regards the fight against COVID-19?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the Embassy of China in Nigeria has conveyed two batches of medical supplies from Chinese Government to the Nigerian Government, including large amounts of masks, protective suits, goggles, face shields, forehead thermometers, medical-use gloves, shoe covers, and other supplies. A third batch is on the way, and soon shall it be delivered.
We have also promoted transparency and facilitated the sharing of China's experience on fighting the COVID-19.
Ambassador Zhou Pingjian met with Nigerian Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire on Feb. 3, and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu on Feb. 4, and held a press conference with more than 40 Nigerian and international journalists on Feb. 3 to inform the Nigerian side on the outbreak of COVID-19 in China and China's anti-epidemic measures.
Since early February, the Embassy has issued Newsletter on COVID-19 on a daily basis to Nigerian government agencies, institutions and media, giving a timely update of the newest unfolding of the epidemic in China.
Since April 27, Nigerian Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire and other high officials from the ministry have attended a series of five virtual meetings on experience sharing between Chinese and African experts, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Health Commission of China.
The director-general of NCDC Dr Ihekweazu was one of ten global health experts invited by the WHO to visit China. Since his return, the NCDC has been implementing many strategies and programs in Nigeria to ensure that the adverse impact of this virus is minimized. It was highly acknowledged by the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in a public speech on March 29.
As a key stakeholder within the local community, the Embassy has also made donations of medical supplies to Nigerian Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and through Ministry of Federal Capital Territory to over 100 schools in Abuja.
The Embassy has also encouraged the local Chinese community to fulfill their social responsibility. Masks, medical-use gloves, among other medical supplies and equipments have been donated to the local communities across different states in Nigeria. According to the statistics revealed by the China General Chamber of Commerce, the total value of materials and funds donated by the local Chinese private stakeholders amounts to 3 billion naira.
For example, China General Chamber of Commerce has made a 48 million Naira donation to Nigerian Federal Government. China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation(CCECC) has even helped bring a plane-load of medical supplies to meet the urgent needs of Nigerian government. CCECC also joined local business community in building two makeshift hospitals with a combined bed capacity of over 800.
China will continue to firmly support Nigeria's fight against the epidemic and stands ready to assist, if needed, to the best of its ability. Be it experience sharing or medical supplies delivery, China will continue to prove itself a good friend, partner, and brother of Nigeria through concrete actions. This joint battle against the COVID-19 pandemic will surely strengthen trust, cooperation and brotherhood between our two great nations and peoples.
Can you comment on Hong Kong's legislation on national security?
National security is invariably under the purview of the central authorities, be it in China or any other countries. In all countries, the power to legislate on national security rests solely with the central government. Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China - a special administrative region enjoying a high degree of autonomy which comes directly under the Central Government. As an exceptional arrangement under the policy of "One Country, Two Systems", the Basic Law governing the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao obliges the SAR to enact local legislation on its own to safeguard national security. Macao has successfully completed this task in 2009. Hong Kong has not been able to fulfill its constitutional duty. For the sake of not only the 7.5 million Hong Kong residents, but also the 1.4 billion people in the Chinese mainland, the question of how long we could tolerate such a gaping hole in national security has to be asked, and answered.
Legislation to safeguard national security is now urgently needed. Since last June, Hong Kong has been traumatized by escalating violence fanned by external forces. Groups advocating "Hong Kong independence" and "self-determination" incited protesters, very often radicalized young people, to desecrate and burn the national flag, vandalise the national emblem and storm the Central Government's office in Hong Kong.
Further, some local politicians proclaimed that they would paralyse the Hong Kong SAR Government while others campaigned for foreign governments to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs or even to impose sanctions on Hong Kong. No central government could turn a blind eye to such threats to sovereignty and national security as well as risks of subversion of state power. All in all, these acts have crossed the "One Country" red line and called for resolute action.
As the highest organ of state power in China, the National People's Congress has the constitutional power and the duty to enact national security legislation for the Hong Kong SAR. The national law to be enacted has taken into account Hong Kong's actual situation and will be applied in Hong Kong by way of promulgation in accordance with the Basic Law.
The legislation aims to prevent, curb and punish acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security. These crimes will be clearly defined in the law. It will only target an extremely small minority of people who have breached the law, while the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents will be protected.
How has China's economy fared since the pandemic?
Despite the severe challenges brought by COVID-19, China is resuming work, production, business and markets in an orderly manner, helping our economy and society gradually come back to normal. China is the first major economy to achieve positive growth after having a negative growth rate earlier this year.
First, the main indicators showed restored growth. The data shows that the second quarter GDP of China has grown by 3.2 percent, despite the economy being hardly struck by the pandemic.
Second, employment levels and consumer prices were generally stable. In June, the surveyed unemployment rate in urban areas was 5.7 percent, a slight decrease for the second straight month.
Third, basic livelihood was ensured effectively. The poverty alleviation drive has achieved outstanding results.
Fourth, new growth drivers became stronger in various emerging fields. In the first half of the year, the added value of high-tech manufacturing and equipment manufacturing grew by 4.5 percent.
Fifth, market expectation was generally good. The Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index stood at 53.1 percent in August, being the highest number since Feb. 2011, and staying above the expansion-contraction threshold for the sixth consecutive month.
On September 4, China opened the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS). At the opening ceremony, Chinese president Xi Jinping said, "with COVID-19 yet to be brought under full control at the global level, all countries face the formidable task to defeat the virus, stabilise the economy, and protect livelihoods."China is willing to join hands with all countries in this trying time and work together to enable global trade in services to thrive and the world economy to recover at an early date."
President Xi also pointed out that China will stay committed to further opening up, enhancing the protection of intellectual property rights and actively promote the development of digital economy and sharing economy.
There are some controversies as regards China's present loan to Nigeria, especially the clauses in the agreement signed between Nigeria and the Export-Import Bank of China with regards to a loan of $400 million. Can you shed more light on this topic?
In pursuing cooperation with Africa, China always values sincerity, friendship and equality. China never seeks hegemony or expansion. The 1.4 billion Chinese people have been with the over 1.2 billion African people in pursuing a community with a shared future.
We respect Africa, love Africa and support Africa. We follow a "five-no" approach in our relations with Africa: no interference in African countries' pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries' internal affairs; no imposition of our will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.
China is committed to enhancing investment and financial cooperation with African countries based on their need to help them improve infrastructure and extradite socioeconomic development. By funding infrastructure and other areas that lag behind for short of money, we have helped the relevant countries break bottlenecks, enhance their capacity for independent development, realize social and economic sustainable development, and improve people's livelihood.
Such cooperation has delivered tangible benefits to African countries and peoples. In the process, China always gives full consideration to debt sustainability and seeks mutually-acceptable proposals through equal and friendly consultations. That is the fundamental reason behind the enormous popularity of China-Africa cooperation in Africa. And such cooperation is widely welcomed by African countries.
To help African countries fight the pandemic, China has pledged that within the FOCAC framework, it will cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020.
For those African countries that are hardest hit by the coronavirus and are under heavy financial stress, China will work with the global community to give them greater support, by such means as further extending the period of debt suspension, to help them tide over the current difficulty.
We encourage Chinese financial institutions to respond to the G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and to hold friendly consultations with African countries according to market principles to work out arrangements for commercial loans with sovereign guarantees. China will work with other members of the G20 to implement the DSSI and, on that basis, urge the G20 to extend debt service suspension still further for countries concerned, including those in Africa.
What is the current trade volume between Nigeria and China?
According to China Customs statistics, in 2019, the bilateral trade volume between China and Nigeria is $19.27 billion with an annual increase of 26.3 per cent.
In Africa, Nigeria remains China's third largest trading partner, after South Africa and Angola, and has surpassed South Africa, becoming the biggest market for China's export, which is $16.62 billion, with a year-on-year increase of 24 per cent. Meanwhile Nigeria's export to China is $2.65 billion, with an impressive growth rate of 43.1 per cent.
In the first half of 2020, the bilateral trade volume between China and Nigeria is $7.77 billion, with China's exports amounting to $6.77 billion and Nigeria's $1 billion. And according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, China tops the list of Nigerian import trading partners by 31.41 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, meanwhile China is one of Nigeria's top 3 export trading partners.
What would you say are China's highlights and achievements regarding improving bilateral relations between both countries?
China and Nigeria see each other as opportunities for development. There are many highlights and achievements. I will just point out one area of cooperation, that is the capacity building. The number of Nigerian students now studying in China is huge. Till now, almost 7000 Nigerian students have enrolled in Chinese Universities. Many of them covered by a wide variety of scholarships, studying for their masters and doctorate degrees in engineering, medicine, agriculture and other majors.
In 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit, President Xi Jinping pledged that in the coming three years, under the framework of FOCAC, China will set up 10 Luban Workshops in Africa to offer vocational training for young Africans. China will also train 1,000 high-caliber Africans, provide Africa with 50,000 government scholarships, sponsor seminar and workshop opportunities for 50,000 Africans, and invite 2,000 African youths to visit China for exchanges.
Are there any cooperation between China-Africa or China-Nigeria in the areas of security?
Under the framework of FOCAC, China has set up a China-Africa peace and security fund and has continued providing military assistance to the African Union. A total of 50 security assistance programmes is being and will be carried out in the fields including UN peacekeeping missions, fighting piracy, and combating terrorism.
In the areas of security, China has always been a reliable and sincere partner for Nigeria, in recent years, the military exchange and pragmatic cooperation between China and Nigeria has been very fruitful. China has provided two batches of military aid to Nigeria respectively in 2016 and 2018.
With the steady progress of Belt and Road Initiative, China will continue its support to Nigeria in the areas of counter-smuggling, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Nigeria is sending more than 50 officers to China for military and security training annually and the cooperation has always been broadening.
What is to be expected between Africa and China in terms of Solidarity against COVID-19 presently?
China will continue to do whatever it can to support Africa's response to COVID-19.
COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global public good. China will give developing countries, especially in Africa, priority access to COVID-19 vaccines. This will be China's contribution to ensure vaccine accessibility and affordability in Africa.
China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries.
China will establish a cooperation mechanism for its hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals and accelerate the building of the Africa CDC headquarters to help the continent ramp up its disease preparedness and control capacity. In this regard, China and AU Commission signed the Implementation Agreement of the China-Aided Africa CDC on July 27th, 2020.
China will continue to help African countries by providing supplies, sending expert teams, and facilitating Africa's procurement of medical supplies in China.
Can you tell us about visa policies between both countries and what the Chinese Embassy is doing to improve on them for government officials, businessmen/women, students and tourists?
To promote the bilateral exchanges, we have done a lot to facilitate the issuance of visa. The application procedure and terms have been simplified significantly in recent years.
For Nigerian officials holding valid diplomatic passport or official passport, they will be exempted from visa requirement for entry into, exit from or transit through the territory of the People's Republic of China.
For Nigerian students studying in China, they are entitled to use the fast track reservation-free window in the China Visa Application Centre. More information can be found at the website of the Chinese Embassy.