Buhari’s visit and prospects for Nigeria-China relations

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 01: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) greets President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (L) during a plenary session of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit April 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting the fourth and final in a series of summits to highlight accomplishments and make new commitments towards reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.   Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 01: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) greets President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (L) during a plenary session of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit April 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting the fourth and final in a series of summits to highlight accomplishments and make new commitments towards reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFPKa

Nigeria-China relations go beyond diplomatic; from the influx of Chinese goods in the Nigerian markets to the establishment of Chinese restaurants that serve choice varieties of their cuisine.

In the same vein, the influence of the Chinese technology in infrastructure across the country, among others, is another indication of a strong cooperation between the two countries.

Observers note that people-to-people and cultural relations have become increasingly vibrant which can be traced to ties that have existed over the years.

For instance, Nigeria and China formally established diplomatic relations in February 1971 and this was followed by the first Chinese exhibition in October 1972 in the then Nigerian capital of Lagos.

The establishment of relations also led to the exchange of several visits by leaders of both countries at various levels of governance.

These visits have since led to the signing of different Memoranda of Understanding and agreements in the various sectors of cooperation.

Besides the traditional bilateral diplomatic co-operation between Nigeria and China, the two nations, in 2005, further established a strategic partnership designed to develop the enabling framework and mechanism through which they would engage more intimately.

Since then, relations between China and Nigeria have evolved remarkably with both countries partnering in different areas of mutual benefit.

Economic and Commercial Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, Mr Zao LingXiang, highlighted the major feats in relations between both parties since its establishment.

“2016 marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship and the 11th anniversary of the establishment of strategic partnership between China and Nigeria.

“During those years, economic and trade cooperation has always been like an anchor and propeller of China-Nigeria relations.

“According to the statistics of the General Administration of Customs of China, total bilateral trade volume between China and Nigeria, from 2004 to 2015, recorded at 101 billion dollars.

“The major commodities imported by Nigeria from China are electrical machinery equipment, machinery and mechanical appliances and vehicles.

“The major commodities exported by Nigeria to China are mineral resources; wood, agricultural produce such as cotton, palm oil seeds and cashew nuts, among others,’’ he said.

The counsellor said that the bilateral trade volume between both countries stood at 14.94 billion dollars in 2015, observing that the figures made up 8.3 per cent of China’s total trade with Africa and 42 per cent of its trade with ECOWAS.

Linxiang also stated that both countries had made progress in the area of infrastructure construction.

“A large number of projects have been completed or are being implemented in Nigeria with Chinese funds, advanced technologies and services. Those projects create more than 20,000 jobs for local people,’’ he said.

However, both countries have sought to maintain and enhance ties through high-level exchanges at the bilateral and multilateral levels.

In the light of this, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang recently announced that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will pay a state visit to China from April 11 to April 15 at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He said the both presidents would hold talks and exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of common concern.

“The two sides will sign cooperation agreements and jointly hold a forum on production capacity cooperation as well as a reception marking the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties.

“We believe President Buhari’s visit will give new impetus to the all-round development of the China-Nigeria strategic partnership of cooperation,’’ he said.

Kang added that the two countries had maintained frequent high-level visits, cooperated for strong results and maintained positive communication and coordination in international affairs over the past 45 years.

Recently, both the Nigerian and Chinese governments have, at various occasions, lauded the achievements made in the Nigeria-China relations in the last 45 years.

Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Gu Xiaojie, said Buhari would be the first African Head of State to visit China after the 2015 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in South Africa.

He also reiterated that the dynamism in relations between both countries had enabled Nigeria to remain China’s third largest trading partner in Africa.

The envoy attributed the success of the longstanding relationship to two major factors, saying: “The first is equality and political mutual trust, and unity and coordination in international affairs.

“The second is the win-win cooperation in economy and mutual learning in civilisation; as good partners, the two countries always adhere to win-win cooperation and common development, thus bringing its benefits to our peoples.

“We always attach great importance to people-to-people and cultural exchanges, thus making stronger the social and civil foundation for bilateral relations,’’ he said.

Xiaojie also explained that the visit would enable both presidents develop modalities to enhance bilateral relations under the new cooperation plan of the 2015 FOCAC Summit and support Nigeria’s diversification efforts.

“The FOCAC Summit determined 10 key cooperation plans and those plans focus on resolving three major livelihood issues which are employment, food and health.

Based on what we have achieved in the past couple of years, both countries will identify new areas like infrastructure, investment and also areas in agriculture and mining.

Xiaojie added that the implementation of the focal plans would further benefit the cooperation among China, Nigeria and Africa and boost the industrialisation and development on the continent.

Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, in an exchange of congratulatory letters with his Chinese counterpart on 45 years of Nigeria-China relations, commended the cordial relations both countries shared.

In his message, he emphasised that the long standing bilateral relations had witnessed tremendous achievements in various sectors.

“The Nigerian side has unwavering commitment to re-invigorate, deepen and expand the existing relations,’’ he said.

Irrespective of this, stakeholders in the Nigerian economic sector have called on the need for Buhari to discuss modalities in promoting areas of mutual partnership that promote a trade balance in the Nigeria-China relations.

They have also called on President Buhari to focus on infrastructure, power and investment during his upcoming visit to China.

The National Coordinator of the Nigeria-China Business Council, Matthew Uwakwe, who made the call, said that partnership with China in the identified areas would enable Nigeria to achieve its economic diversification plans.

Uwakwe added that Nigeria needed major economic boosts in order to speed up infrastructure development, improve Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and overall quality of life indices.

He called on Buhari to also discuss the issue of capacity development in the petroleum sector to enable the nation’s refineries meet local demand for petrol.

The president can get them to increase investment in Nigeria and get strategic long-term relations as his main focus to diversify our economy.

We need a serious, conclusive turn around maintenance of our refineries and Chinese people are very good in that; again, when you identify your problem you can find solutions.

We can partner with China to improve the quality of our existing industries and revive the moribund ones,’’ he added.

The coordinator also advised that a committee be set up to see to the implementation of decisions and agreements that would be reached during the visit.

The President, Miners’ Association of Nigeria, Mr Sani Shehu, raised the issue on the need for there to be a trade balance in the Nigeria-China relations.

Shehu noted that the trade imbalance between both countries remained in favour of China and urged that Chinese entrepreneurs be encouraged to set up production facilities in Nigeria.

He explained that setting up production facilities would ensure value addition, creation of jobs and enhanced development in the country.

Nigerian Government should learn from the Chinese in terms of building human and physical infrastructure as well as granting manufacturers and miners access to cheap credit.

Nigeria is eager to diversify its trade relations by reducing its dependence on western industrial countries.

China is therefore one of the few countries that can assist Nigeria to bridge its huge financing gap, especially for infrastructural development,’’ he said.

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