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'We Have Learned a Lot'

--An Interview with the African Delegation of Senior Diplomats to China


"I have a lot to say about this visit to China. It is well worth the tens of thousands of kilometers we have traveled. China is developing so fast. To be frank, I am extremely impressed," said Andrew Bangali, senior secretary and director of the Administration and Finance Department of Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Mr. Bangali came to China with the Delegation of Senior African Diplomats at the invitation of the China Institute of Foreign Affairs. Comprising 19 members from 16 African countries and 3 regional organizations, the delegation held informal discussions with leaders of various Chinese ministries and commissions. They included the State Development and Reform Commission, State Ethnic Affairs Commission, State Council Information Office and Taiwan Affairs Office, Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Delegation members also visited Zhongguancun Hi-tech Park, and developed areas in eastern China, including Shanghai and Suzhou. It also went to the less developed provinces in western China, such as Gansu.


As head of the delegation, Mr. Bangali expressed his gratitude to ministry and commission leaders for the detailed descriptions they had provided of their work. He was impressed at the extent of hardship and difficulties China has encountered in the course of development. At the State Development and Reform Commission the delegation were briefed on China's achievements during 20 years of reform and opening, and were astonished at the figures listed. At the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council the causes and history of the Taiwan issue, the mainland's assistance to Taiwan and the One China policy were explained to them. The delegation now has a clear understanding of the issue. Mr. Bangali was also glad to have seen Zhongguancun, China's Silicon Valley. "The vice director of the managerial committee of the sci-tech park there gave us an all-round introduction to its colleges, hi-tech companies and research institutes, and the extent of foreign investment. He also spoke of its problems, such as increasingly heavy traffic congestion. We were told that three more large-scale sci-tech parks are to be built in Zhonguancun, suitable for industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to sports. This I find particularly interesting."


This is Mr. Bangali's second trip to China. His first was in 1986 when he accompanied the president. Mr. Bangali said that compared to what he saw seven years ago:  "Beijing has changed so much. There are so many majestic high-rise buildings. On my previous visit, there were few cars on the road, but today the number is said to be in its millions, and Shanghai rivals New York in terms of prosperity. This is testimony to the great improvement in standards of living. China is growing at a speed envied by many countries, and I hope that Africa can learn from China's experience and expertise in city planning and construction. I have also noticed some of the problems China faces. Its spiraling number of cars means that finding parking space is difficult in the bigger cities, and that traffic congestion worsens daily. Another potential problem is crime, but these drawbacks are inevitable in the course of development. I believe China has carefully deliberated on these issues and will find solutions."


Mr. Kheri Iddi Milao, acting chief of the Zanzibar Bureau of Foreign Affairs, is most interested in agriculture and hi-tech, as all East African countries are endeavoring to promote agriculture and attract more foreign investment. In this aspect, Mr. Milao said they have a lot to learn from China and the miracle it has achieved in being able to feed its huge population and still have enough surplus for export. Mr. Milao also expressed interest in the food safety measures China is implementing, and his intention to emulate Zhongguancun's policy of inviting foreign investment and methods of utilizing hi-tech achievements in Africa. He feels confident that Africa could build similar small-sized sci-tech parks on a trial basis.


Ms. Catherine Sebitosi, director of the Asian and Pacific Affairs Department of the Uganda Foreign Affairs Ministry, raised many proposals for Sino-African cooperation and exchanges. She said she hoped China would continue in its cooperative approach and concern for Africa's development. Africa appreciates China's support on international affairs, and hopes Sino-African cooperation will advance further through trade. Such cooperation and exchanges are expected to accelerate since China joined the WTO. She added that more channels should be opened to facilitate broader talks between state leaders of the two parties, and also for exchanges between trades. Tourism, for example, can promote mutual understanding about culture, ideology and values. She noticed during the visit that Chinese people have little idea about African culture and customs.


Mr. Gangali concluded: "Sino-African cooperation is going smoothly on the basis of mutual benefit. I believe this relationship will be further consolidated in the future." Mr. Milao agreed, saying: "Both China and Africa should improve their ability to overcome obstacles such as language and distance in mutual trade. There could be more exchanges beyond those arranged by embassies. For historical reasons we used to pay attention only to Western countries. Now this has changed. We are shifting our eyes to Asia, and particularly to China. The China-Africa Cooperation Forum is a golden opportunity for us."


(Data: Since first suggested by Vice Premier Qian Qichen in February 1996, the African Diplomats Delegation to China project has arranged 8 visits to China for 135 senior African diplomats and 8 courses for 142 young and middle-aged African diplomats from 44 countries and regional organizations in Africa.)


(China.org.cn December 11, 2003)

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