Chargé d'affaires ad interim of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria talks about bilateral ties

By Hu Fan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail ChinAfrica, February 10, 2021
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Zhao Yong, Chargé d'affaires ad interim of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, [Photo/Courtesy]

February 10 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and Nigeria. On this occasion, Zhao Yong, Chargé d'affaires ad interim of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, spoke to ChinAfrica about the achievements in China-Nigeria relations in the past 50 years. The following is an excerpt of the interview.

ChinAfrica: What is the current status of the relationship between the two countries? How important is it as part of China-Africa cooperation?

Zhao Yong: China and Nigeria established diplomatic relations on February 10, 1971, and in 2005, the two countries issued a joint communiqué to upgrade their relations to a strategic partnership. During the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on jointly promoting the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative. 

Over the past 50 years, the two countries have enjoyed mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual support. Especially, the recent years have seen rapid development of the bilateral relations under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, with frequent high-level exchanges and deepening political mutual trust. The Nigerian Government firmly adheres to one-China policy, and China actively supports Nigeria's efforts to maintain national peace and stability and pursue economic and social development. The two countries have carried out mutually beneficial cooperation in trade and economic development, security and culture, among other areas, which has brought tangible benefits to the people of both countries.

Nigeria is one of China's most important strategic partners in Africa and the cooperation between the two countries is among the strongest in breadth and depth in bilateral relationships between China and African countries. In particular, the cooperation in Abuja-Kaduna Railway, Ogun Guangdong Free Trade Zone, currency swap, satellite launch and joint maritime scientific research stands out in China-Africa cooperation. China-Nigeria cooperation has become an essential part of China-Africa cooperation and South-South cooperation.

In 2019, the bilateral trade volume between the two countries reached $19.27 billion, 1,900 times that at the beginning of the establishment of diplomatic ties, representing the highest growth rate among China's top 40 global trade partners, and accounting for 9.2 percent of China's trade volume with Africa and nearly 40 percent of China's trade volume with West Africa. In the first 10 months of 2020, the bilateral trade volume between China and Nigeria grew by 0.7 percent year-on-year despite the impact of the epidemic, 14 percentage points higher than the overall trade growth between China and Africa. Nigeria has surpassed Angola as China's second-largest trading partner in Africa and surpassed South Africa as China's top export market in Africa. 

For many years, Nigeria has been the largest market in Africa for China's engineering contractors. The 186.5-km-long Chinese-built Abuja-Kaduna Railway completed in 2016 is the first modern railroad in Africa built totally with Chinese technology and Chinese standards. The Lekki Deep Sea Port built by Chinese companies, which started construction in October 2019, will become the largest port in West Africa after its completion. 

Nigeria is also a major destination in Africa for Chinese investment. The free trade zones in Ogun and Lekki established by the two countries have attracted large numbers of Chinese companies to invest in businesses there. 

In addition, the two countries are also leading in terms of people-to-people exchange, with the number of Nigerian students studying in China over 6,800 in 2019, ranking first in Africa.

China and Nigeria, as the two most populous developing countries in the world and in Africa, respectively, have expanded their relations far beyond the bilateral realm. Both countries are committed to upholding respect for sovereignty rather than interference in other countries' internal affairs, multilateralism rather than unilateralism, free trade rather than protectionism, and fairness and justice rather than hegemony. 

Nigeria was the first leg of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to Africa at the beginning of this year. In what ways will Wang's visit further promote the development of relations between the two countries?

Just after the New Year, Wang started his official visit to five African countries, including Nigeria. The tradition of Chinese foreign ministers' visiting Africa at the beginning of each year has continued for 30 years, reflecting the great importance China attaches to Africa, the unbreakable friendship between China and its African brothers, and China's firm support for the development of African countries.

February 10 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, making the year an important point of time for renewing the relationship. Wang's visit to Nigeria as the first stop of his first foreign visit in 2021 highlighted the significance of China-Nigeria ties and importance China attaches to Nigeria. 

During the visit, Wang met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and held talks with Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama. Broad consensus was reached on reinforcing anti-pandemic cooperation, aligning national development plans, promoting cooperation under the Belt and Road framework, accelerating Nigeria's industrialization, as well as diversifying areas of economic cooperation to include digital and green economy. 

Consensus was also reached on closer cooperation on military and security to improve Nigeria's ability to maintain national security. The two countries will also strengthen coordination on global and regional affairs to protect the common interest of developing countries.

In particular, the two foreign ministers signed a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of an intergovernmental committee between the two countries. This is to provide a mechanism to mobilize resources and coordinate efforts of relevant parties, which is helpful for the healthy, stable and rapid development of cooperation between the two countries.

What challenges has the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the cooperation between the two countries? What joint efforts have the two countries taken to fight the pandemic?

Nigeria reported its first imported case of infection on February 27, 2020. As the epidemic spread, the Nigerian Government took measures such as lockdown of cities, suspension of flights and ban on the movement of people, and has well contained the first wave of the epidemic. This, however, has led to restricted movement of personnel and goods and affected the progress of China-Nigeria cooperation projects.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China and Nigeria have been supporting each other with solidarity. The Nigerian Government and people offered sincere support to China during the most difficult time in China's fight against the epidemic. Nigeria was one of the first countries to express its condolences. In a statement on February 2 last year, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hailed China's exemplary efforts in containing the spread of the disease and China's close communication and collaboration with the international community. 

After the outbreak of the disease in Nigeria, China shipped anti-epidemic emergency supplies in time. Video meetings on anti-pandemic technical exchanges held by China were attended by Nigeria's ministers. Solidarity in fighting the pandemic was reiterated at the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 held in June last year, attended by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and during Wang's visit to Nigeria early this year. 

At present, China is boosting cooperation between hospitals of the two countries on combating the pandemic, and working to achieve the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in Nigeria and other African countries, in a bid to help the people of Africa, including Nigeria, overcome the pandemic as soon as possible.

What will be the focus of cooperation between the two countries in 2021?

China and Nigeria work in tandem in a wide range of areas. For 2021, the focus will be on implementing the agreements reached during Wang's visit to Nigeria. First, the two countries will further strengthen cooperation in the fight against the pandemic until it is completely over. Second, the two countries will deepen cooperation in building the Belt and Road together, accelerating the construction of key projects, and helping Nigeria speed up production resumption. Third, the two countries will expand military and security cooperation to improve Nigeria's ability to maintain national security. Lastly, the two countries will further collaborate in international and regional affairs and work together to safeguard the common interests of developing countries.

What are your expectations to the meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to be held this year?

FOCAC has been an important platform for collective dialogue and an effective mechanism for practical cooperation between China and Africa, and it is also a good example of South-South cooperation. This year marks the conclusion of the implementation of the outcomes of the forum's Beijing summit in 2018. We expect that China and Africa can strengthen cooperation in health, agriculture, infrastructure, digital economy, clean energy and 5G in this year. I believe that with the joint efforts of China and Africa, the next FOCAC meeting will go smoothly in Senegal and promote high-quality post-pandemic China-Africa cooperation, bringing more benefits to the people.

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