Bilateral relations and cooperation between Nigeria and China have grown phenomenally from its humble beginning 50 years ago. Since then, the relations have grown and have in recent times consolidated in the robust and dynamic bilateral cooperation between the two countries with an added impetus of the historic momentum of strategic partnership declared in 2005, the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation or the FOCAC process – a multilateral mechanism instituted since 2000 that is mostly driven by consultation, dialogue with outputs of tangible and measurable results and thirdly, the Belt and Road framework of international cooperation – a mechanism of infrastructure connectivity, within and across countries underwriting in practical terms, the construction of a shared future for all humanity.
These three core pillars or the trinity of Nigeria-China relations have delivered practical results and brought tangible values to the cooperation between the two sides.
Shortly after the establishment of diplomatic relations on February 10, 1971, Nigeria joined other 75 countries across the world to vote overwhelmingly at the 26th session of the United Nations, enabling the People’s Republic of China to regain her lawful seat at the world body she has helped to found and was first signatory to its charter.
The United States of America and other Western powers against whose will, modern China was founded in 1949, through dirty tricks of procedural ambiguity created all manner of obstacles to prevent China from assuming her legitimate seat at the world body. In 1971 with Nigeria and other 25 Africa countries and the rest of the world, China resumed her formal participation in the work of the United Nations.
Since then, the political imperative of mutual respect for the core national sensitivities of each other has been the foundation of the two countries bilateral relations.
The Forum on China Africa Cooperation established at the start of this century has nurtured Nigeria-China Cooperation into the expansive multilateralism, catapulting Africa to the mainstream of contemporary multilateral diplomacy. But this is not diplomacy for just diplomacy’s sake. It is one that has brought tangible values and is filling the gaps of the fundamentals and essentials at which Nigeria and other African states are strengthening their capacities to deliver on their practical obligations to their respective peoples of job creations, infrastructure improvements, and building regional economies of scale with prospect of a major global investment destination.
The Belt and Road framework of international cooperation offers very tangibly the critical requirement, Nigeria need to optimize her economy of scale, by addressing the historic deficits of strategic infrastructures.
Within the framework of the trinity of robust bilateralism, the FOCAC process, and the Belt and Road mechanism on which Nigeria and China cooperation currently stand, we can identify some vital and critical drivers that would boast the cooperation, accelerate its pace and deliver more tangible results.
Industrial and production capacity cooperation: The advantage which China enjoyed nearly half a century ago at the point of its start of reforms and opening up, which is massive labour reserve with relative low-cost, present itself to Nigeria and other Africa countries. It is this unique advantage that turned China into “the workshop of the world.” As China breaks through the gridlock of the middle-income trap and evolve to post-industrial economy of knowledge-and innovation-driven, the title of the world’s next industrial frontier falls to Nigeria and Africa. With Chinese firms setting their eyes firmly on Nigeria, it is imperative that we engage policy priorities that accommodate the objective trends of global and specifically China’s industrial convergence in our shores.
Accessibility to the Chinese huge market: Consumption is a major driver of China’s contemporary economy. A market volume of about $22 trillion is no joke and should not escape the attention of policymakers. China has held three import expos in a straight row to provide global access to its huge market. If Nigeria addresses her infrastructure challenge especially power and transport networks, which can be achieved through robust engagement with the Belt and Road mechanism, seize the opportunities of her potential as the next industrial frontier through mainstreaming with China, the industrial and production capacity cooperation, then she is well and on the way to exploring the huge Chinese market, not with primary products or commodities but by at least, low-end industrial products to be modest which would certainly integrate the country’s production capacity to the global industrial value chain.
Poverty alleviation and eradication: Nigeria leadership in recent times have expressed strong will to engage the issue of poverty and lift Nigerians out of poverty and therefore, comparing notes and sharing experience in policies, measures and best practices on poverty reduction and eradication present a new frontier to deepen Nigeria-China cooperation, given China’s own experience which has seen the country shake off, the last vestiges of poverty among its 1.4billion people late last year.
Strict party governance: Issues of internal party governance and capacity building have been a major challenge in Nigeria democratic process. The quality of state governance and quality of constructive opposition in the Nigeria context is largely dependent on internal party governance, capacity and discipline. The governing communist party of China (CPC) will be 100 years in July this year. Its experiences, comprising its setbacks, challenges and successes are parades and compendiums in party building. Its early summon to a United front of all Chinese People and its landmark creative institutional frameworks to realize and sustain it, is the stuff of the growth and vitality of the CPC. Without any aspiration to be CPC, the ruling party, the opposition and other major political parties in Nigeria can constructively engage the experiences of the CPC and this in my modest view, is a new frontier to advance the Nigeria-China Cooperation.
Reform of international governance process: Nigeria and China are key countries of the South and plays constructive roles in galvanizing the south to advance democratic international order. Reforming critical institutions of global governance especially the United Nations is very germane to the advancement of the democratic international order. Nigeria has already served notice of its intention to serve as a permanent member of the security council of the UN.
And to democratize and expand the space of the international economic and financial order, China founded the Asia investment and infrastructure Bank (AIIB) a multilateral financial institution dedicated mostly to support and fill the infrastructure gaps of developing countries and also, help found the New Development Bank through the mechanism of the BRICS. Nigeria need to develop outreach to these new international financial institutions as its national imperative of economic revival, recovery and growth cannot be solely accommodated by the traditional Western-dominated financial institutions alone. This is certainly a crucial frontier to add vitality to Nigeria-China Cooperation.
Think Tank cooperation: In recognition of the major roles think tanks can play in developing China-Africa cooperation, President Jinping at the 3rd summit of the Head of State and government of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, 2018 announced the establishment of China-Africa Institute. Currently domiciled in Beijing, as a key research platform, it needs to be domiciled in Africa and specifically in Nigeria. Nigeria has diverse and vigorous intellectual tradition that can galvanize the intellectual resources of the Africa continent that can drive energetically and harness research endeavours to continuously investigate, interrogate the opportunities of China-Africa cooperation.
Africa Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA): This Continental Free Trade Area is the exemplary of regional economies of scale for which Nigeria is in the core. It offers an impressive market space for Nigeria, especially if the country maximizes the potentials of the industrial and production capacity cooperation with China, which would translate that Nigeria would not just offer a market within the AfCFTA framework but a net industrial producer. This is certainly a new lever to drive Nigeria-China Cooperation in the future.
There are other enabling drivers to take Nigeria-China Cooperation to new levels including expanding military cooperation, deepening cultural and people-to-people cooperation and several others.
Should Nigeria choose a strategic approach to engage the opportunities of her already robust relationship with China, it would discover that beyond the rhetoric of gratification and gratitude, the tangible gains in the past 50 years of bilateral relation would be mere footnote to the opportunities ahead in the next 50 years and beyond.
Onunaiju, is director of Centre for China Studies based in Abuja.