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The Analysis Of Liberia–China Relations: Who Benefit Greatly?

By Josephus Moses Gray 

Being wary of zero-sum game and protectionism in the international balance of power, those at the helm of power in the country need to acutely reflects on a parable which says “The ocean is vast because it admits all rivers” while another saying goes, “History, if not forgotten, can serve as a guide for the future,” and third parable goes: “Delicious soup is made by combining different ingredients”.
Therefore we should seize the historical opportunity presented in the new era of China-Liberia relationship for the realization of the nation’s pro-poor. Assistant Professor Josephus Moses Gray offers insightful analysis regarding the most beneficiary of the new era of China-Liberia relations and the story of unique friendship.
The new era of friendship subsisting between the two countries-Liberia and China, should move forward against all odds, build on open and inclusive friendship through exchanges and mutual understanding by fostering partnerships based on dialogue, common interest and non-confrontation. At the peak of this level, our leaders need to be proactive not reactive; they should not wait for their counterparts from Beijing and other great capitals or investors to identify Liberia’s needs of interests.
Our leaders, especially those at the corridor of power, should be fully aware of the international balance of power and win-win cooperation, and should pinpoint Liberia’s priorities areas of interests of modernizations, industrializations and economic growth; if President Weah’s pro-poor philosophy which literally means poverty reduction is to be achieved. Those at the helm of key positions of state powers and others assigned at the notion’s diplomatic missions abroad need to be ahead of the game, be farsighted and proactive and not place themselves in the position of a“push and start”.
 Considering the nation’s economic inertia, the right policy at the right time by the right people at the right place should institute and that those at the helm of states’ power be proactive by knocking on the doors of vibrant Chinese financial institutions like the Bank of China for economic growth and human resource and infrastructure developments. To achieve this goal, the right people with the requisite skills, experience, qualifications and education need to be accorded the task and place in the rightful position of national duty.
       The Chinese government has captured the attention of many African countries including Liberia due primarily to Beijing’s reasonable approaches towards socio-economic and infrastructural development, and the ways in which the Chinese government practices win-win diplomacy and is foreign aid’s policy. Beijing’s “win-win” diplomatic style has featured greater accommodations with several African countries like Liberia.
      The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in his recent book title: The Governance of China, II, page 598 paragraph two disclosed that from 1950 to 2016, China provided foreign countries with over RMB400 billion in aid, and will continue to increase assistance. According to him, China has contributed on average over 30 percent of global growth each year and revealed that in the coming years, China is expected to importUS$8 trillion worth of goods, attract US$600 billion in foreign investment, and made US$750 billion in outbound investment.
       With the swift rise of overall strength of developing countries and the increase of South-South cooperation, Forum on China-Africa cooperation (FOCAC) has momentously advanced into a new platform for China and African countries to strengthen multilateral discussions for win-win cooperation. FOCAC has recognized the continent’s growing standing in the global community of principles and shared humanity, its development potential for China and Africa.
       As a manner of reflection, Liberia historically had strong bilateral ties with China and African countries; since the country became member of FOCAC, it has seen a complementary interaction between south-south cooperation and the current bilateral cooperation. In this regard, Liberia and China have relished exceptional economic cooperation over the decades.
     The current administration in Liberia needs to play a pivotal role as a key member and at the same time ensure that Liberia’s interest and membership in FOCAC are protected for a win-win cooperation. It is important that Liberia’s representatives to this year’s September FOCAC be proactive and understand the dynamics of contemporary politics if Liberia is to benefit from FOCAC’s dividends, just like other African countries like South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
      From the perspective of economic benefits, Liberia should take advantage of FOCAC to present its case for economic improvement, infrastructure and human resource development, and not to be spectators while other African countries diplomatically showcased their economic needs. Presently, Liberia’s GDP accounts as one of the less compared to over 40 African countries.
       FOCAC was established in 2000 during the heat of the Liberian bloodiest war; since then FOCAC has served as an important engine in promoting China-Africa cooperation in all fields since then. The FOCAC summits in Beijing in 2006 and in Johannesburg in 2015 pushed China-Africa economic cooperation to new heights. In order to encourage African industrialization, China also established the China-Africa Fund for Industrial Cooperation, with a startup capital of $10 billion and increased capital of $5 billion each to the China-Africa Development Fund and the Special Loan for the Development of African SMEs.
      Our leaders to the September’s FOCAC needs to critically reflect the ten plans of FOCAC which include principles and shared values and should understand that the Forum has gone beyond the original realm of economic cooperation to reach much wider realms, such as international politics and geostrategic structure that promotes a win-win cooperation.  FOCAC has become a mechanism of collective consultation and dialogue between China and friendly African countries, providing a new platform of friendly exchange and cooperation between China and Africa. Besides bilateral channels, I am deeply convinced that with the concerted efforts of China and Africa, the forthcoming FOCAS Summit in September this year is bound to bring out more practical results, and breathe new vitality into the friendly relationship between China and Africa.
      Recent trends confirmed that China-Liberia relations are moving ahead in a very positive way, based on a vision of the community of a shared future, mutual support and equality grounded on a common historical struggle against imperialism and national independence. A closer strategic alignment between China and Liberia and in areas of key focus such as economic cooperation will produce win-win cooperation for both nations.
     The new era of friendship between China and Liberia enjoyed sound and all-around growth in 2013 during the former regime of ex-president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The two countries had frequent political exchanges. In March 2012, Johnson Sirleaf sent a congratulatory letter to Xi Jinping on his election as Chinese President. Notable progress was made in business ties as well as people-to-people, cultural and military exchanges between the two countries.
         Before the Johnson-Sirleaf’ administration to inaugurate diplomatic ties with China,  ex-president Charles Taylor despotic government switched ties to Taiwan Strait (Republic of China). Mr. Taylor thoughtlessly thought that ROC could help to boost his authoritarian government’s development agenda. But the former regime of Charles Gyude Bryant once National Transitional Government of Liberia severed diplomatic ties with ROC and reestablished relationship with Beijing.
      Years back as a reflection, former Speaker of the House of Representative Edwin Snowe reportedly met covertly with the Taiwanese Government officials in the Republic of Gambia. The Snowe‘s secret visit caused a forceful storm of disapproval and negative reactions because many Liberians felt that Mr. Snowe’s unilateral action undermined the ex-president Johnson-Sirleaf administration’s recognition of one China policy. China is happy to remain in Liberia as long as Taiwan is out, the former Chinese Ambassador to Liberia has said during my interaction with him in my previous capacity as Assistant Foreign Minister for Public Affairs and Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia. China sees a small window of opportunity to consolidate its influence and project its power.
     For example, Chinese companies have been working in the Liberia thus engaged into visible bilateral projects including infrastructural construction of public buildings, sports stadium, health delivery and educational facilities across the country, telecommunications sector and is now about to complete the construction of Sixty Million United States Dollars Ministerial Complex and the New Terminal at RIA. It has refurbished and decided the Annex of Capitol Building.
     Whilst as the United States continues to debate the merits of aid to Liberia, China will continue to fill a major gap in several areas of interventions. While it is too early to predict precisely whether Chinese long-term rendezvous in Liberia will produce a positive influence, the impact of China in the country is highly visible in several developmental areas including roads rehabilitation, constructions of bridges, hospitals, schools, sports stadium, agriculture facilities, and investments projects.
       All of these projects create opportunities (include jobs) for the current administration to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the people. Chinese Government growing popularity Liberia is due to the soft power approach in the region and the speed of which it responses to developmental requests by unpunished countries like Liberia.  Nowadays, China remains a shining and deeply admired posture in the realm of mutual respect for others to be master of their own destiny and captain of their own future. Indeed, that’s praiseworthy.  For instance, during the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, China was the first to respond with medical aid and cash. In July 2011, the project of Bang Iron Mines in Liberia undertaken by Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) Corporation was put into operation. In September 2011 China, for the first time, sent a 140-strong riot squad to Liberia for the UN peacekeeping operation.
         China’s relationship with Liberia is a strong example of how China is using soft power to successfully and deftly broaden its influence in Africa. China gains at least short-term popularity by answering the request of the Liberia Government especially in time of urgent need and long-term solution the country’s numerous infrastructural needs.  In the views of Liberians, China is not only a credible and willing international partner but also a strategic option for the country’s development. On the other hand, the Liberian market is relatively small in comparison to many African markets. Ordinary Liberians feel that Chinese-made commodities are not durable.
        There have been enthusiasms from Liberians for goods made in the United States compared to that made in China. Liberian consumers, workers and small businesses are worried about the economy.  The perceptions of Liberians toward Chinese made products are fewer enthusiasms.
         According to the Chinese Nation Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China’s industrial output expanded 6.8 percent in May 2018. Its data also showed that country’s GDP rose to 80 trillion yuan (about 12.3 trillion US dollars), over 13 million jobs were created, more than 700 million of which 10 million rural residents were lifted out of poverty.
        China maintains diplomatic relationship with 54 of the 55 African states while  Africa is the largest overseas destination for Chinese but the lack of well defined and effective policy formulations by African governments and leadership are pulling the continent backward, while the issue of widespread corruption, extortion fees and illegal payment demanded by African custom officers, immigration personnel and state actors which perpetually exist without a decisive punishment are also killing Africa’s growth, state actors in Beijing have said with no particular reference to any African country.
       In the face of China’s remarkable achievement, how can Liberia take advantage of exceptional bonds of friendship with China to access BRICS contingency reserve of US$100 Billion offers member states and US$110 Million set apart for development in Africa for the current year of 2018 by the Bank of China and the addition Chinese US$14 Billion investment in Africa.
         Although Liberia is not a member of the bloc but the George Weah’s regime can use its friendship with China and other’s BRICS members like India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil to seek assistance in the form of loan. BRICS through its New Development Bank (NDB) offers a new choice for all the developing countries in their pursuit of self-sustainable development and the NDB African region office in Johannesburg has committed US$15 Billion for loan purposes.

        Besides BRICS, Chinese Government also tabled lots of financial opportunities for FOCAC member countries to seek loan or financial assistance.  These financial openings were actually explained by Mr. Lu Lei, Deputy Administrator of the State Administration of China Foreign Exchange, during the recent China-Africa Think Tank Forum held in Beijing. He told the forum of 350 scholars from China and Africa that trade and investment between China and African states need to be increased, but said the process must be based on honesty, sincerity and clear policies conformity with the principles and shared values in pursuing core interests.