Some economic analysts claim that China’s relation with Africa is influenced by selfish interests to find resources needed to feed its industries at home and create jobs for a huge population. However, the country’s new envoy to Rwanda, Ambassador Shen Yongxiang says this notion is gross exaggeration of Chinese presence in Africa’s mineral sector.
In an interview with Business Times’ MOSES OPOBO, the first since he arrived for his tour of duty in Rwanda late last year, the envoy says that China seeks to deepen mutual trust with African countries, consolidate mutual support at the international arena and build mutually beneficial trade links. Below are the excerpts;-
China’s relation with Africa is seen by many as driven by a big appetite for resources to support economic growth at home. Rwanda does not have abundant natural resources. So what will be the focus of your tenure as Chinese envoy in Rwanda?
First of all, the presence of Chinese companies in Africa’s mining sector is exaggerated. In fact, rich reserves in Africa are monopolised by transnational corporations from western countries, only poor ones in which they are reluctant to invest are left to others.
Second, Chinese investment in Africa’s resources is of mutual benefit. For China, it sustains development momentum at home by meeting increasing needs. For Africa, resource potential is turned into real capital for development. Resource revenue is increased, because China’s entry breaks the western monopoly and leads to rise of resource prices. Notably, resource processing technologies have been transferred by Chinese companies, enabling oil rich countries to get rid of abnormal dependence on petrol import. Third, I would emphasize that the ultimate goal of China’s aid is to help African friends develop, so assistance is provided according to Africa’s needs rather than resource reserves. For instance, China has long been dedicated to supporting Rwanda, because the country is recognized as one of the least developed countries with the cleanest government and the best aid effectiveness record. Our commitment has nothing to do with natural resources, which are relatively scarce in this country.
Therefore, as ambassador, my mission is to promote all-round development of Sino-Rwandan relations. In the political field, I seek to deepen mutual trust between our two countries and to consolidate mutual support at the international arena. In the economic domain, I will spare no effort in implementing development projects set out in the “Five Year Plan of China’s Development Aid to Rwanda”. It’s one of the outcomes of the 7th session of the Joint Committee on Economic, Technical and Trade Cooperation held last year. I will also encourage more Chinese companies, especially manufacturers, to invest in Rwanda. Hope they can help the country create more jobs and boost exports. In the cultural field, I envisage to initiate more dialogues, create more exchange opportunities and launch various cultural programmes, so friendship between the two peoples could blossom like spring flowers in Rwanda.
Rwanda is looking for trade partners to narrow the country’s balance of payment. Specifically how do you intend to help Rwandans trade more with China, especially in the export sector?
In 2013, the bilateral trade value between China and Rwanda reached $243,000,000. It’s composed of $134,000,000 exports from China and $109,000,000 export from Rwanda, with the latter bearing minor trade deficit. Many measures have been taken to help Rwanda increase its exports to China. We extend duty-free treatment to 95% of Rwandan products in the Chinese market. We facilitate the participation of Rwandan companies in various Chinese Import and Export Fairs, so that they can directly promote their products.
I’ve always been thinking of what we can do together to boost Rwanda exports. Several ideas come across my mind. For example, Rwandan tea is of great quality while the Chinese people have enormous appetite for tea. However, Chinese consumers are not accustomed to tea produced from Rwanda. If Chinese companies could establish tea factories in Rwanda and produce according to Chinese customers’ preference, Rwandan tea exports to China are likely to soar. Another example, China is experienced in manufacturing, and Rwanda has abundant labour. We could well combine our respective advantages by encouraging Chinese manufacturers to start business in Rwanda and export products to other countries or the region.
A few years ago, the Chinese economy was not anything to write home about. Yet in the last decade, your economy has grown rapidly to the current position of the second largest economy in the world. What lessons can Rwandans, and Africans in general pick?
China has realized steady and fast growth over the past 35 years. That makes China a middle-income nation. In my view, China’s success could be attributed to three factors;
First, under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the country always benefits from political and social stability. Stability, as you know, constitutes a precondition for development. Second, we always focus on economic development, making it the overwhelming priority, and never get ourselves distracted by volatile changes around the globe. Third, we never stop the process of reform and opening up. That needs tremendous courage and a really open mentality. On one hand, reform means to negate our own inappropriate practices and break up vested interests. On the other, opening up means allowing powerful foreign companies to compete freely with weak national ones and make big profits in local markets. But without such courage and open mentality, we could never witness the “Chinese miracle” today. We are willing to share our development experiences with African friends. But we also believe, every country differs, so does their right path to success. The best development strategy could only be found when we set our foot upon specific conditions of each country.
China has funded some development projects in Rwanda over the years. Which ones can you say are the latest such nitiatives?
In Rwanda, our development aid is focused on three major areas; wellbeing of the local population, capacity building and infrastructure. To help ameliorate Rwandans’ livelihood, we finished the first and second phases of Masaka Polyclinic in Kigali and the third phase is under construction. We expanded the Chinese medical team which has worked in Rwanda for over 30 years. We donated solar energy kit systems and built wells for safe drinking water in rural areas. To help Rwanda tap its human resources potential, we provide scholarships for Rwandan students to pursue higher education in China and offer various training opportunities for over 100 Rwandan professionals every year. In infrastructure sector, we undertook the construction of the national stadium, cement factory, and national roads.
Musanze Polytechnic in Northern Province is so far the largest on-going project. It aims to echo Rwandan government’s Economic Development Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) II that prioritizes TVET education. We have other projects going on such as the Masaka-Kabuga road project in Kigali, the Agriculture Technology Demonstration Center in South Province, Bamboo Planting and Utilization project in Kigali, as well as Government Administrative Office Complex which will accommodate Prime Minister’s Office and four ministries. We are going to donate some articles and goods to primary schools in the first half of this year.
China -Rwanda relationship in medicine dates back 30 years. What informs the interest in the sector, and what are some of the tangible achievements to that end?
The Sino-African cooperation in the health domain dates back to the 1960s. The partnership is best illustrated by the accomplishment of the Chinese medical team. In 1963, at the urgent request of the Algerian government, the first Chinese medical team was sent to Algeria and was well received by local people. Since then, China has been dispatching medical teams to developing countries where medical services are in urgent need. In Rwanda, the Chinese medical team started services in 1982. Since then, Chinese doctors have dedicated themselves to ameliorating the medical and health conditions of ordinary Rwandans. Over the past 30 years, they have treated more than 650,000 patients and carried out over 25,000 surgical operations. In 2013, as required by the Rwandan government, the medical team was enlarged to 20 senior doctors. In addition to service provision, China also funded construction of polyclinic hospitals in Kibungo and Masaka thus contributing to improvement of infrastructure in the health sector.
In your view, what does the success of Sino-African relations depend on?
Two pillars underpin the sound Sino-African relations. In the first place, China and Africa share broad common interests. In the 1960s and 1970s, China firmly supported national liberation movements in Africa, provided enormous aid to newly independent African countries despite scarcity at home. African friends, for their part, rendered resolute support to China on issues concerning China’s core interests. Their precious votes that helped China regain its seat in United Nations in 1971 will always be remembered. If Sino-African relations were shaped by the fight against colonialism and pursuit of national independence in the 20th century, in the 21st century, they are bolstered by a common aspiration to development. We believe that helping Africa is helping ourselves, because only with the development of Africa can we build a just international political and economic order, and realize the overall progress of mankind.
In the second place, China regards African countries as equal partners and fully respects their sovereignty and political independence. We are optimistic about Africa’s future. We believe in the capacity of African countries to achieve prosperity, and recognize the rights of African people to a better life. Although China is Africa’s biggest donor partner among emerging economies, we have never intervened in internal affairs of African countries we help. We know very well what Africa needs is assistance not interference.
How would you sum up the current state of Sino-Rwanda relations?
Although they differ in size, China and Rwanda resemble in a good many aspects. Both are densely populated and challenged by relative resource scarcity. Both chose their own development path and achieved remarkable success. Both prioritize social stability and economic development at home, and advocate for a just political and economic order for the world. Both treasure traditions and values of its own culture while embracing merits of other countries with open mind. In a word, China and Rwanda are likeminded brothers.
China introduced a new Visa system that became operational on September 1, 2013. How different is this new system from the old visa arrangement, and has it made travel to China any easier for the ordinary Rwandan?
Compared to previous arrangements, the new visa system introduces the following changes: It specifies circumstances in which visas shall not be issued; it defines the difference between stay and residence; it streamlines the process of visa extension and reissue; it stipulates that foreigners in China shall not engage in activities not corresponding to the purpose of stay or residence; it outlines acts of foreigners which will be deemed as unlawful employment. Furthermore, the new visa system introduced four new Visa categories in addition to the existing eight: M visa to meet the needs of foreigners going to China for commercial and trade activities, R visa to serve high-level talents or those whose skills are urgently needed in China, Q visa and S visa to facilitate family reunions.
Away from business, what has your country achieved by way of its cultural relations with Rwanda?
The key to sound relations between countries lies in the affinity among their peoples. For China and Rwanda who are remote geographically and vary in tradition, cultural exchanges are particularly important. In 2009, China and Rwanda jointly established Confucius Institute in KIE. In addition to Chinese teaching, Confucius Institute organized various cultural events such as Chinese film projection, lectures on Chinese culture, Gongfu workshops, study tour of Chinese students to Rwanda. Teachers there also compiled the first Chinese-Rwandan-English Dictionary. As for the Chinese Embassy, the promotion of cultural exchange ranks high on our agenda. In 2013, we implemented a series of activities for Rwandan students under the theme Chinese Culture into Campus. We successfully launched two photo contests named Rwanda in the eyes of Chinese and China in the eyes of Rwandans. Chinese diplomats and their spouses also wrote a book entitled Rwanda as I saw, as I heard in which they ardently introduced Rwanda to the general public of China. There are some achievements, but more remains to be done. The Embassy will invite more Chinese artistes to Rwanda for performances, and foster bilateral cooperation in fields like film and television.