China-Nigeria foreign policy and Wang Yi’s visit to Nigeria

The constructivist project of diplomacy and international relations does not justify itself only in the state of war, antagonism or in the polarization agenda of the world system. The rise of China has cogently convinced the convincible minds that its style of diplomacy is all inclusive and the most peaceful in the history of humanity at all stages and ramifications. Chinese reforms and opening up were to improve the state of China and fixate itself in the changing world which is tantamount to having a shared future for humanity especially as envisaged by the Belt and Road Initiative.

The common variables shared between Nigeria and China are numerous to count, but foreign policy principles of non-interference in the affairs of independent states, respect to the sovereignty of states and peaceful co-existence are core in what defines the foreign policies of the two giants. Nigeria remains the most populous country in Africa and China the most populous in Asia and the world. China is the largest economy in Asia and second in the world, while Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. The two celebrate their national days and independence in the October of every year and share similarities in so many traditional festivals and history.

What provides the strongest nexus was the aftermath of the Second World War when the United States emerged formidable and the Soviet Union reaffirmed its power in spite of the Harry Truman Doctrine of containment. In this era, a new union of new states emerged with the name of non-aligned movement and the subsequent identification of south-south cooperation where both China and Nigeria belong. The Bandung conference has not only established an inter-continental relation between Africa and Asia, but provided a drastic background for brotherliness and cooperation between the two sides. When Nigeria adopted an Afrocentric foreign policy posture, China also adopted the same, as every New Year Chinese top diplomats first visit Africa to review and build on the existing fruitful relationship.

This year marks the 31st anniversary of this tradition with the scheduled visit of the Foreign Minister to Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. When Mr. Wang Yi came to Nigeria on January 5, 2021, it was a recount of achievements and successes of China-Nigeria coupling as president Buhari expressed satisfaction in the cooperation and partnership especially in most of the areas affected by the Covid-19 pandemic such as falling price of crude oil in the international market and rising prices of food items. Nigeria also appreciates China’s support in infrastructure development and its role in Nigeria’s sustainable development.

One important area of diplomatic relations is mutual trust between and among partners. This has been achieved between China and Nigeria which according to Wang Yi “has played a strategic guiding role in the development of China-Nigeria relations.” Other areas that gave Nigeria the virtue of respect within the continent and beyond are: Nigeria as a major country within the continent of Africa has occupied an important position in China’s diplomacy with Africa; the ability of Nigeria’s experience and understanding of the world has developed “mutual understanding, trust and support between China and Nigeria; with Nigeria’s support to China’s core interest (especially the one China policy) motivates China to perpetuate support in safeguarding Nigeria’s sovereignty, security and development interests. Consequently, China is ready to work with Nigeria and other African countries to overcome the difficulties engendered by COVID-19.

The spirit of China-Nigeria bilateral relations as known to be hinged on mutual benefits, cooperation and mutual support, Wang Yi affirmed that such cooperation has achieved fruitful results. It is also based on the commitment put in place by the two sides that China pledges to help Nigeria build infrastructure in accordance with its development needs, encourage more Chinese enterprises to invest in Nigeria, and carry out cooperation in free trade zones, so as to boost Nigeria’s industrialization process and enhance its capacity for independent development. China is ready to share digital economy experience and technology with Nigeria, carry out green economy cooperation, and jointly tackle the challenge of climate change. China is ready to work with Nigeria to give full play to the role of the intergovernmental committee of the two countries, push forward all-round cooperation and further promote bilateral relations.

Alliances have been built to balance regional, ideological and military powers among other things. The Russo-German alliance on military pact has justified that, Russo-French alliance, Anglo-French alliance and Anglo-Japanese alliance have all proven how partners work together to achieve a common goal. China-Nigeria alliance is not a military alliance or intended to fight wars, but a constructive alliance built for peace, harmony and development. It is based on this that Wang Yi believed that the current once-in-a-century pandemic has accelerated global changes and the international situation has entered a period of turbulent change with the rise of unilateralism and protectionism. It is based on the impact of the global enemy (COVID-19) on the world that China is ready to work with Nigeria to uphold multilateralism, promote democracy in international relations, and safeguards the legitimate rights and interests of China and Nigeria as well as other developing countries. This can be seen at the United Nations, World Trade Organization and other relevant institutions of critical concern.

The maturation of bilateral relations goes with an instrument of intergovernmentalism, where states carry out mutual consultations and information sharing in divergent areas of bilateral relations. Wang Yi’s meeting with Nigerian foreign affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama has brought about this development between the two countries. Ministers Wang and Onyeama have jointly signed a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of the China-Nigeria Intergovernmental Committee. This according to Wang is a fresh start in China-Nigeria relations in 2021 because this significant year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. Regardless of changes in the international situation over the past 50 years, Wang believed that China and Nigeria have persisted in mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual support, and walked a path of seeking prosperity in solidarity. The trade volume between China and Nigeria in 2019 was 1,900 times higher than at the start of the establishment of diplomatic ties. The two countries’ fruitful cooperation across railway construction, free trade zones, currency swap, satellite launching, and other fields, is in the front rank of the inter-governmental and international cooperation. The facts have proven that China-Nigeria cooperation, with a strong endogenous driving force for growth, serves the common interests of the two countries and their peoples, and has become a crucial part of China-Africa cooperation and South-South cooperation.

It is unequivocal that Nigeria and Africa have never had a true friend and partner as committed and cooperative like China. This is evident in the ambiance of the relationship and implemented plans of action in the bilateral and multilateral arrangements. The intergovernmental committee which is to be led by the two countries’ Foreign Ministers will further cement such cooperation. The two parties have identified some significant areas of spill-over effect of the partnership which are: deepening the Belt and Road cooperation by closely aligning China’s new development paradigm with Nigeria’s new national development plan; to vigorously promote the construction of key projects in Nigeria so as to help Nigeria accelerate industrialization and improve its independent development capabilities; extend cooperation into areas including digital economy and green economy so as to achieve diversified development; deepen military and security cooperation in efforts to enhance Nigeria’s capacity for safeguarding national security; and closely coordinate regional and international affairs, practice multilateralism, and safeguard the common interests of developing countries.

It is significant to note that China is one of the major contributors to peacekeeping operations under the blue helmet (United Nations) in order to conform to the United Nations Charter on global peace and security. One area of devastating conflicts and threat of terrorism is Africa. The afrocentric posture of both China’s and Nigeria’s foreign policy is that considering the nature of violent conflicts in the continent, Wang Yi believes that China-Nigeria strategic partnership will be bound to embrace broader prospects and make greater contributions to the peace and development of Africa and to the “stability and prosperity of the world under our concerted efforts.”

It is axiomatic that China-Africa relation has been castigated especially by those who face a sheer fiasco in understanding the direction of such relationship. Such critics question China’s increasing influence in Africa, forgetting about the provisions of the forum on China-Africa cooperation. It is in line with the above assertions that Wang Yi deconstructed such claims and argued that China-Africa friendship has withstood various tests and grown even stronger as time goes by. Back in the days when Africa was fighting for national independence and liberation, “we were comrades in arms and forged a deep friendship. During the period when Africa pursues economic growth and prosperity, we are partners seeking win-win outcomes through cooperation.” In the area of financial aid Wang pointed out that “China has never attacked any political conditions to its aid to Africa, let alone interfered in Africa’s internal affairs.” Wang inferred that whenever Africa encountered great difficulties, China was the first to lend a helping hand and offer assistance.

The Forum on China-Africa cooperation has achieved a stupendous outcome. In just two decades with inception, the trades between China and Africa and China’s investment in Africa have expanded by 20-fold and 100-fold, respectively. China has built more than 6,000 kilometers of railway lines, 6,000 kilometers of roads, nearly 20 ports and more than 80 large power facilities in Africa, assisted Africa in building over 130 medical facilities, 45 gymnasiums and 170-plus schools, dispatched 21,000 medical team members to 48 African countries and treated about 220 million patients in Africa. the results of China-Africa cooperation have spread all over Africa, bringing significant changes to local economic and social development and making important contributions to improving the lives of African people. The unremitting efforts made by China in this regard cannot be discredited, and the hard work done by Chinese engineers, technicians and medical workers cannot be ignored. Today’s China-Africa cooperation has spearheaded international cooperation with Africa, driving other countries to pay more attention to Africa and increase their investment in Africa.

Associate Professor Sheriff is from Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Abuja

 email: [email protected]

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