Author: Shang Xi
Translator: Laiyin Yuan
Published on: 04/03/2015
Source: Southern Metropolis Daily (SMD)
Original text (in Chinese): http://epaper.oeeee.com/epaper/A/html/2015-04/03/node_2748.htm
This article is a trenchant diagnosis of the underlying problems in Sino-Africa economic relations. During the recent Third Africa-China Young Leaders Forum, the Deputy Secretary General of the China Foundation for Peace and Development suggested that the Chinese government and companies should rethink how they do business in Africa. More local efforts should also be encouraged in order to enhance people-to-people exchanges between both sides. It is a useful introspection for the Chinese to find a way to “clear its name” in African countries.
---- Laiyin Yuan (translator)
China has been providing aid for thousands of projects in Africa. In addition to famous ones such as Ethiopia’s African Union Conference Center, Tanzania’s Nyerere Conference Center, and Mozambique’s National Stadium, there are also a large amount of highways, railways, airports, hospitals, schools, etc.
However, with more and more Chinese people moving to Africa, conflicts between them and locals are intensifying. On the eve of the Third Africa-China Young Leaders Forum, a Chinese restaurant in Kenya provoked widespread condemnation because it barred local Kenyans from entering after 5:00 pm (read more here - Laiyin).
During this forum, the China Foundation for Peace and Development (CFPD) held a dialogue focusing on “People-to-People Exchange and Sino-African Relations.” Ji Ping, CFPD’s Deputy Secretary General, created a new word “Afrina” combining “Africa” and “China” in his speech, hoping the two sides can truly understand each other on a non-governmental level.
“Now the most important thing in Sino-African relations is people-to-people exchange, and everyone has responsibility in it,” said Ji Ping during an exclusive interview with our reporter after the forum. China’s aid in Africa should “break the whole into parts” and penetrate into the African grassroots.
Is Sino-African friendship resting on its laurels?
The main reason is not because the Chinese government has not done enough, but because there is insufficient personal communication.Southern Metropolis Daily [SMD]: When you were talking to a Chinese businesswoman on the flight, you asked whether you could visit her factory. Why are you interested in ordinary Chinese in Africa?
Ji: During the forum, African leaders always said they supported Sino-African friendship. They mentioned President Mao several times no matter the occasion was, and their rationale was the friendship built in anti-imperialist/colonialism movements in the past. This leaves an impression that the Sino-African friendship is resting on its laurels. It is not because the Chinese government has not done enough, but because there is insufficient personal communication.
Ji: In our field research, we went to a Chinese restaurant. Its owner, Mr. Lu, is a Shanghai native living here (Tanzania) for 21 years, and he has been running restaurants for a decade. I asked him whether he knew about the Chinese restaurant incident in Kenya. He confirmed that he knew about it. When I asked for his thoughts, he said: “we come to Africa, so we are the guests and the locals are the hosts. How can the guests bar the hosts from coming in for dinner? It must be wrong, and I won’t do such things.” I think he made a good point.
Ji: We also visited a local peasant household. The owner can speak English, and he has one hectare of land, a few cows and goats, five spacious tile-roofed houses, and five children. This family must be considered well-off in the region. The owner was very hospitable at the beginning and invited us in for tea. He said he just came back from Dar-es-Salaam (the biggest city in Tanzania), suggesting that he is quite experienced and may be able to represent grassroots opinions. However, when he heard that we are from China, his attitude changed immediately. He was no longer hospitable but and his actions became perfunctory. He did not reveal his reasons, but we could feel a coldness in his behavior.
Ji: If things are really like what African leaders said, that China and Tanzania are friends in adversity because China supported the anti-imperialist/colonialism cause in the 1960s and 1970s, local people should be much friendlier when they meet Chinese people, but this is apparently not the case. Our local guide also agreed that the overall Tanzanian impression towards Chinese people is not very positive.SMD: Why do you think this is the case, and what is the problem?
Ji: Now the most important thing in Sino-African relations is to reinforce non-government exchanges, and to strengthen the foundation of public opinion and civil society with more people-to-people work. On my way here, I was reading China’s Second Continent (read here to know more about this book ---- Laiyin). The author is an American reporter who understands the situation pretty well, and he dug out many fundamental problems between Chinese and African locals. Some Chinese look down upon Africans, thinking they are stupid and lazy, and would rather bring migrant workers from China. However, those Chinese workers are no better than Africans.If the (diplomatic) “software” is outdated and people-to-people exchange is limited, there may be anti-Chinese sentiments in the future.
SMD: Do Africans also consider Chinese “locusts”? (Note: the term "locust" refers to Hong Kong residents accusing Chinese mainland tourists of taking their public resources. Read here for details - Laiyin)
Ji: It is not that serious yet. Chinese in Africa are good as a whole, which is a mainstream view. But the situation is indeed not optimistic according to what we have found during our field research over the years. The Chinese restaurant owner we talked to had a good analysis. He said the Indians and Pakistanis here are the elites controlling major economic lifelines. Why do they get along well with the locals? It is because they have been doing that for nearly 100 years. Do you remember the story when Mahatma Gandhi was tossed out of a train during the colonial period? There were Indians and Pakistanis on the continent even before that time. They have been interacting with local people since then, thus the current harmonious situation.
Ji: Now there are more Chinese coming here. The number in Tanzania ranges from 30,000 to 50,000. When that restaurant owner first arrived here 20 years ago, there were only a dozen Chinese in Arusha. Now there are around 500, which is a major change. With this speed, if the (diplomatic) “software” is outdated and people-to-people exchange is blocked, there may be anti-Chinese or Chinese exclusion sentiments in the future.
Why did you create the term “Afrina”?SMD: So what is the meaning of the term “Afrina”?
Ji: The main reason for me to create this term is to let people feel that Chinese hearts beat with Africans’, as well as to shape a common community consciousness. The prefix of “Afri-” and the suffix of “-ina” show that we attach great importance to Africa, which reflects a spirit of equality and inclusiveness. Sino-Africa relations are NOT unequal. Although Africans are poor right now, their human dignity should be fully respected.“With 10 million dollars, it is better to build 100 clinics rather than one hospital.”
We have carried out many ten-million-dollar projects in Africa, but the locals still do not appreciate us. It is because those projects are too far removed from their daily lives.SMD: There is a common perception that the current Sino-Africa relationship is like an inverted pyramid. The top level (governmental level) and large-scale project are all doing pretty well, but the non-governmental levels are weak. Is that true?
Ji: I think it is more like a castle in the air – no solid foundation. The Tazara Railway in the past was definitely a symbol of Sino-Africa friendship with worldwide impact. Now Chinese projects in Africa are far more numerous than in those years, so why are there so many complaints instead of appreciation? It is because we built many airports and large conference centers, but how many ordinary Africans can actually go there? Some people may never have the chance to take airplane or enter a conference center like that in their entire life.
However, a lot of volunteers from western countries work on grassroots level and do exactly what we should have done in Africa. Two years ago, I accidentally saw a pale girl in a remote village clinic of northern Laos. She was very polite, and looked different among others. I asked her where she came from, and she said she was a Japanese volunteer who had been working here for a while. At this time many local people surrounded us and rushed to tell me how amazing this girl was and how much help she had provided. They may not remember her name, but they will always remember that a Japanese person helped them.SMD: During this trip I saw many Japanese cars on Tanzanian roads, and there were also Japanese words on buses. These make ordinary people feel connected to Japan and bridge the gap between them. As for our aid and constructions in Africa, do we need to adjust our way of thinking?
Ji: Yes. We have spent plenty of money on many ten-million-dollar projects in Africa, but the locals still do not appreciate us. It is because those projects are too far removed from their daily lives. Therefore, I think our projects in Africa should “break the whole into parts.” For example, we can break a ten-million-dollar project into a hundred 100,000 dollar projects. With 10 million dollars, it is better to build a hundred clinics rather than one hospital. A hundred clinics can possibly cover every major village and towns in the area. Of course, I am not saying that we should abandon all the big projects. It is undeniable that the big projects have their own special meaning and impact.
The impact is limited if we only have government aid projects.
We are relatively weak on supporting more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteers to go to Africa.
SMD: Just now, you said that Sino-Africa relations lack a solid foundation. What are the components of this foundation?
Ji: It is a foundation of public opinion. In the United States, diplomatic work is not only accomplished by diplomats, but also by every American going aboard. Students, professors, doctors, businesspeople… they all have a sense of diplomacy. But we are not like this. Many Chinese think they have nothing to do with diplomacy. It is only the business of those working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now with tighter economic and trade ties, we cannot avoid small frictions. However, “bad news travels fast while good news goes on crutches.” It is usually trivial things that tend to escalate and influence the bilateral relations.SMD: “Everyone is a diplomat” may take us longer to achieve, but what can we do now?
Ji: “All men share a common responsibility for the fate of their country.” This old saying can also be applied to diplomacy. We should provide basic training – not only for corporate employees, but also for every Chinese that has the intention to go abroad – to let them understand local customs, laws, religions, culture and traditions. The corporate social responsibility we talked about cannot keep pace with the current development of Sino-African trades, so we need to support more NGOs and volunteers to go to Africa. This is our relative weakness. The impact is limited if we only have governmental aid projects.(The last paragraph is omitted because it is a repetition of the previous content - Laiyin)
About Southern Metropolis Daily
"Headquartered in Guangzhou, the Southern Media Group's Southern Metropolis Daily has built a reputation for sharp investigative journalism and provocative commentary. The paper focuses primarily on Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but it is also distributed in Hong Kong, Macao and elsewhere throughout the Pearl River Delta region, with a circulation of 1.40" million. (http://www.china.org.cn/top10/2011-10/31/content_23772241_4.htm)