By Austin Maho (PhD)
In the May 28, 2020, opinion column of the Guardian, there was a piece by one Abdul Rafiu with the title: “The Chinese are here”
This piece is a response to the write-up, not necessarily because it is worth responding to but because it falls within the growing spat of misinformation about China and the Chinese which is fuelled mostly by Western-sponsored media propaganda. A response is appropriate to the convoluted article which is full of self-contradictions.
Moreover, the outbreak of the coronavirus has led to an increase in “sinophobia”. It is a season of Chinese bashing, pulling China down and looking to humiliating the Asian giant has become the past time of many ignorant people.
Only last week there was a trending story on social media which was widely celebrated even by some mainstream media outlet in the country. The story had it that, the Rwanda President, Paul Kagame had personally signed an order expelling 18 Chinese nationals from Rwanda!
The story turned out to be completely false as nothing of such happened.
In a tweet in the verified Twitter handle of the Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation. on June 2, 2020, it stated that what was being peddled on social media and some mainstream media outlet was completely false “we would like to inform the public that there has been fake news circulating on various social media platforms stating that 18 Chinese citizens were expelled from Rwanda; no such thing happened. Please ignore” it stated.
Evidently, there are attempts, an organized one to smear the image of China. Often it is part of the general geopolitical conflict between East and West; China and the United States. Unfortunately, some simpleton allows themselves to be used as cannon fodder, puns in a conflict they know next to nothing about.
In the long winding article by Abdul Rafiu, he made a lot of assertions about China which I would take on one after the other.
He raised concerns over what he called the “influx of Chinese into Africa and into Nigeria”; their involvement in mining and acquisition of large expanse of land for large scale farming; the infrastructural loans and debt issues among others.
To begin with, if Abdul Rafiu is concerned about the influx of Chinese citizens into African countries, has he also taken time to examine the number of African citizens and Western-based corporation that are pouring into China as a result of China’s reforms and opening up?
Is Abdul Rafiu not equally unaware of the number of African businessmen especially Nigerians pouring into China especially cities like Shenzhen, Shanghai. Guangdong Beijing and a host of others. He quoted Johns Hopkins as saying there are over 250 000 Chinese workers in the whole of Africa. Is he also aware that there have been more Africans pouring into China than Chinese pouring into African countries?
Is Rafui aware that in Guangdong alone there are over 200,000 Nigerians according to Information from the Chinese ministry of commerce? I am talking of just Nigerians, not including other African Nationalities. They are in China unmolested, engaged in the export of manufactured goods and machinery to Nigeria.
In the whole of Nigeria, there are less than 60000 Chinese citizens. The free movement of people, goods and ideas is a component of globalization. There are black communities in China just as there is China town even in the US.
On investment, Abdul Rafui quoting an undated edition of the economist said Chinese FDI into Nigeria was in the region of $216 billion, warning of a debt trap. The same worn-out sing-song of Western propagandists.
If the Chinese can put this much into the Nigerian economy in a space of 5 years should it be denounced or applauded? It clearly shows the level of confidence they have in the Nigeria economy to stake that kind of money here. However in the views of Abdul Rafui Chinese FDI is bad, he betrays a basic understanding of economic dynamics, growth and development.
He also says China gives loans in liberal terms, “our governments at both the Federal and State levels have found China the pathway to rapid infrastructural development and by extension industrial development especially in the states”.
What is wrong with taking loans with “generous terms” for industrial and infrastructural development as Abdul Rafiu puts it? Or we should rather take loans from Bretton woods institutions with cut-throat terms that are corruptly stolen and ends up in western financial institutions with nothing to show for it but crippling debts?
As he rightly points out, President Buhari has assured and responded to the so-called debt trap: “The debts incurred are self-liquidating. Our government is able to repay loans when due in keeping with our policy of fiscal prudence and sound housekeeping.”
In truth, the loans are tied to infrastructure, not consumption. They would pay for themselves. How can anyone question the wisdom in taking a loan to build the Abuja Kaduna standard gauge railway or the just completed Lagos Ibadan standard gauge rail network connecting Apapa port and would finally bring to an end the Apapa port congestion.
Even Abdul Rafui accepts these truths but yet labour’s to defame and demonize China without evidence. According to him:
“From agriculture to transportation, China has helped rebuild rail lines, roads and bridges that Nigeria could not do itself. The cost came out so much cheaper for us than going to traditional friends such as France, the United Kingdom, Canada.”
Standard infrastructure across the board at a cost-competitive price, how that is a problem or “hurts Nigeria” beats imagination. The Chinese are helping to build our economy, they are transferring technology, they are engaged in manufacturing and export, earning much needed foreign exchange for the country. They are delivering on their promises and yet Abdul Rafui is laboriously fishing for faults he can’t find.
It is distressing to read how Abdul Rafiu brandishes figures, pushes a line of argument, without following it through to logical conclusion and engages in self-contradiction that leaves readers bemused.
For instance, he puts the indebtedness of Nigeria to China at 300 billion USD! He says, “Loans from there soared from $100 million in 2000 to $306 billion in 2016”
How ridiculous! Nothing can be further from the truth. The total debt stock of African countries to China in the last 20 years is in the region of 60 billion USD. Ascribing 300 billion USD to only Nigeria can only be in the figment of a mischief-maker.
As an indication of his ignorance or mischief, he equally says in the following paragraph of his article that China has, “pledged $60 billion for development all over Africa”. How do you reconcile such irresponsible brandishing of figures!
According to the World Economic Forum, WEF, internal trade is the greatest opportunity for realizing Africa’s economic growth potential, this is what infrastructural development endears.
In the 2015 and 2017 records of the World Bank, Africa owes large sums of debt not only to China but also to other lenders. Africa’s debts from multilateral lenders amount to 35%, 32% from private lenders, about 20% from China and around 13% from various other governments. Bretton woods institutions and Western nations are still the largest holders of Africa’s debts.
It is public knowledge that higher interest rates of about 55% from the private sectors prompted most African countries to go to China for loans, with very low-interest rates and long moratorium.
Also, the debts owed by African countries from China are allocated for investments on sectors needing critical development and growth and not just for consumption like the 3.4 billion USD loan recently granted Nigeria by the IMF
In economic theory and practice, any country can borrow from another country to finance its economic development. However, it is not always easy to find someone who is will to lend money even for logical reasons. The global competition on which country is best to invest money in is in fact, a country’s sign of financial strength, which is why development economist does not consider the relationship as a debt-trap.
The China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) or SAIS-CARI in a peer-reviewed report from August 2018 stated that “Chinese loans are not currently a major contributor to debt distress in Africa”.
Additionally, in a 2019 peer-reviewed research paper, Johns Hopkins professor Deborah Brautigam wrote, “The evidence so far, …shows that the drumbeat of alarm about Chinese banks’ funding of infrastructure across the BRI and beyond is overblown.” She believes it is a Trump’s Presidency agenda to demarket China.
Irrespective of these reports even by a top-rated western institution, the West continues to brandish the debt trap argument, ironically the U.S is the largest creditor nation to China. The U.S owes China 1.1 trillion dollars!
What Nigeria needs to develop is massive investments which the Chinese are offering. In this direction, the Chinese have shown a commitment to the growth of Nigeria by putting their money where their mouth is. If anyone ought to show fear it is the Chinese themselves. They are the ones who run the risk of losing their money by investing in a volatile environment like Nigeria.
As for Africans not buying properties in China, this is not true, I have friends who own properties in china as long as you meet the condition anyone can buy a property in China. The Chinese unlike most Western countries don’t monopolise technology but make it freely available to other developing countries. Recently in some media report, a government agency, the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, NASENI, expressed happiness with the increasing deployment of Chinese machinery in the country.
Whereas most Western nations will not allow basic access to their industrial technologies China, on the other hand, is even inviting Nigerians engineers to China to learn Chinese technology so they can apply it and produce for themselves.
As a nation, I think we should show gratitude and learn from China, instead of this Stupidity. If there are genuine fears, the government should be encouraged to set the terms of our engagement with the Chinese rather than this paranoia and idiocy.