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Summit New Peak in China-Africa Relations
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By Qin Xiaoying

Asked about my impression of Africa after my recent Africa tour, I came up with one word: "Profound."

Africa served as the cradle of the human race in its infancy and it so happened that I came to know the continent when I was very young, knowing that there were black brothers and sisters who shared much the same fate with we Chinese in old China.

I mentioned to the editor-in-chief of Egypt's Al Ahram newspaper my memory that Egypt recovered sovereignty over the Suez Canal in 1956 and that millions of Chinese had then taken to the street to demonstrate against the Anglo-French attack on the port of Alexandria. The editor-in-chief nodded his head again and again in agreement and passionately hugged me and my colleagues one by one.

At the Nairobi International Airport, I, in the presence of a local porter in his forties, reminisced that the Chinese Government sent Foreign Minister Chen Yi to Nairobi to convey China's congratulations on the independence of Kenya in 1963 when the two countries had not built diplomatic relations. The porter said in excitement: "China is a great country. Mao (Zedong) and Zhou (Enlai) were great persons!" I responded in equal excitement: "Kenyatta was also a great man!" Again, passionate hugs.

The Portuguese built a fortress in Mombasa as early as the 16th century. Later, it became famous as a slave-trading port. This is a place rarely frequented by Chinese, either merchants or tourists. So the locals first mistook us for Japanese. But, to our surprise, all the locals around began shouting enthusiastically: "Zheng He! Zheng He! OK! OK!" when I told them that we came from the homeland of the famous Chinese navigator whose fleet called at various ports on the eastern coast of the African Continent 600 years ago. That was really a moving scene.

The Tanzania-Zambia Railway, the construction of which was aided by China in the 1970s, is known to virtually all in East Africa.

Indeed, China and African countries share a long history of friendship. All this sets me thinking: What can we do in Africa and what can we do for Africa now that China has got on the fast track of development.

The words "in" and "for" have different connotations. The difference lies in that the former largely refers to mutual-benefit undertakings while the latter stresses one-way aid.

Historical research shows that Zheng He's fleet indeed arrived in the East African coast with two purposes. One was to track down the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Emperor Zhu Di's political foes, who were believed to have fled to overseas. The other was to show the awe-inspiring power of the empire. Obviously, Zheng's navigations were not economically motivated and were, therefore, purely missions for friendly exchanges.

In the era of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai after the founding of New China in 1949, China's Africa policy leant heavily and selflessly towards aid and, as a result, had little to do with economic benefits.

Things, however, began to change in the late 1990s when the Chinese Government initiated the outward-looking economic development strategy. China-Africa economic and political ties thus began to get closer. Promoted by frequent mutual visits by Chinese and African leaders, co-operation in energy exploration, technological exchanges and trade has made progress in large strides. Large numbers of Chinese entrepreneurs, business people, technicians and workers keep pouring into African countries.

Now a new height in China-African co-operation and friendship is being reached by the forthcoming Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, which will involve Chinese leaders and the heads of states of 48 African nations.

This is expected to be the largest summit ever staged in China in 50 years and also a milestone marking that China-Africa economic co-operation and cultural exchange will be moving forward in a big way.

At this special moment, I would like to offer some suggestions.

To begin with, we need to get a clear picture of public opinion in Africa with regard to relations with China.

Different social strata have different attitudes towards China. The grass roots are generally friendly, thanks partly to the traditional Chinese-African friendship nurtured in the 1960s and 1970s and partly to their liking of cheap but good Chinese consumer goods.

The upper circles, government leaders and ministers in particular, generally regard China as a model for developing nations. The majority of them appreciate China's role in Africa and on the world stage, with their realities and development strategies as the points of departure.

The groups harboring misgivings or even fears about China are some media institutions and the middle-class public under their influence, including senior managerial people and medium and small business owners. They are generally educated in the West and subscribe to the Western media assertion that China is "plundering" Africa's resources. This deserves our attention.

Second, Chinese entrepreneurs ought to be aware of how they relate and compare to the Africans.

The Chinese in African countries are mainly engaged in mining, manufacturing and catering industries. They should respect and abide by the local laws and demonstrate good professional ethics. A handful of Chinese business owners in Africa, unfortunately, play foul - exercising unfair competition, cheating, committing forgery, taking little heed of workers' working conditions and delaying wage payments. All this does nothing but smear China's image and hurt the Africans. These crooks are not a source of revenue but the root of trouble.

Finally, we should be clear about Africa's importance for China's sustainable development. In strategic terms, Africa and China could forge a consolidated and lasting partnership.
Education should be enhanced to root out the poisonous elements of big-power chauvinism, racism and the "Middle Kingdom" complacency from the minds of the Chinese public, and particularly the Chinese officials, entrepreneurs, business people, tourists and some scholars who interact with Africa in one way or another. This eradication would help consolidate the friendship and opportunities China has already won on the African Continent.
The author is a researcher with China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

(China Daily October 31, 2006)

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