China,  Ambassador Amedu-Ode
Ambassador Amedu-Ode

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

Nigeria’s immediate past envoy to Singapore, Ambassador Ogbole Amedu-Ode, in this interview, speaks on US/China relations, both countries’ influence in Africa and Nigeria’s relationship with China among other issues.

50 years of Nigeria-China diplomatic relations was recently celebrated. As an ex-diplomat with deep knowledge of Nigeria’s engagement with foreign nations, tell us the significance of the event…

Last February 10 was the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, at Principal Envoy levels, between Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The first significance of that, in my opinion, lies in the fact that half a century of deepening diplomatic relations between Nigeria and China who became independent in 1960 and 1947, respectively, is epochal.

It is epochal because of the mileage covered, time-wise, without any major upheavals. Thus, by the time China emerged as the second-largest economy in the world in 2010, the attraction was for Nigeria to emulate the Chinese model in the quest to transform its massive human and resource endowments into a higher and better standard of living for the vast majority of our population with support and assistance from China.

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This effort at deepening the bilateral relations has proceeded on an even keel. For example, in 2004 and again in 2006, then Chinese President Hu Jintao was on state visits to Nigeria and addressed a joint session of the National Assembly (NASS). Both nations signed a memorandum of understanding on establishing a strategic partnership.

This, China has supported Nigeria’s bid for a seat in the United Nations Security Council(UNSC), but it is likely offering the same support to Egypt. Response to the hesitation of the US and other Western powers to aid Nigeria in efforts to combat insurgents in the oil-rich Niger Delta has led the Nigerian government to develop close military cooperation with China, by way of supply of arms, equipment and technology and training to the Nigerian armed forces. Both nations also signed a US$311 million agreement to develop cooperation in communications and space programmes.

Not many Nigerians know that China helped develop and launch the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigComSat -1 and NigComSat -2). NigComSat – 1 was launched into orbit in 2007 to expand cellular and internet networks in Central Africa. There was, however, a downside in our bilateral relations in 2020 specifically, in the consular area.

Last April, during the first phase of the covid19 pandemic, Nigerian authorities were compelled to condemn China’s discriminatory attitude towards Nigerians, after a video emerged on the web showing Nigerian residents in China being discriminated against by locals.

China seems to be overtaking the US in terms of trade relations with African nations, especially Nigeria. Why is it so and what do you think is the future of the relationship?

Statistics available corroborates this position of Chinese superiority to the US or any other trading bloc in her trade relations with African countries, Nigeria inclusive.

While Chinese investment in Nigeria is calculated to be worth about $15 billion, that of the US is at $5.5 billion. These are 2019 figures and I doubt very much if they have been any drastic changes to these figures. The ascendancy of Chinese investment in Nigeria over those of other foreign countries is attributable to a few reasons. In the first place, as the country’s modernization began to succeed, it became imperative for her to look beyond her boundaries not only for raw materials that are not readily available in the country but also for markets for her finished products.

The relationship between China and the US under Trump was frosty. It seems that won’t be the case under Biden. Biden recently called the Chinese Leader, XiJping to wish the Chinese people a successful Chinese New Year. Can you analyse the significance of such a gesture?

Mr. Biden’s approach to the entire spectrum of governance will likely be markedly different from that of Mr. Trump. Trump’s abrasive approach in the execution of both domestic and foreign policies was very untoward. In foreign policy exertions on the platform of diplomatic interface, whether at the summit level or otherwise, a diplomatic agent’s conduct is spiced with huge doses of courtesies underpinned by etiquette, Mr. Trump’s style of name-calling (e.g. calling the coronavirus the Chinese virus) was viewed with dismay, to put it mildly.

Under Mr. Joe Biden, it is expected that such reality show attitudes will not even be contemplated, not to talk of indulging in it. It is to me, a return to the ways of civilized conduct of heads of state and governments and their representatives. A phone call by the US President to his Chinese counterpart on the occasion of the Chinese lunar New Year celebrations is an extension of courtesy as I explained above.

However, it is also indicative of a rapprochement. It is like saying to Mr. Xi Jinping “I want to do business with you “. Therein lies the significance of that phone from Washington DC to Beijing.

The West, especially the US, has always been seen as having an overbearing influence on African nations. Why has it been a norm in international politics and what are the advantages and disadvantages for African nations?

US dominance in global affairs, at the expense of European countries, especially, England and France is a post-second World War (WWII) phenomenon. Even at that, former colonial powers of Europe still have spheres of and considerable influence on the African continent and beyond.

Their dominance became a ‘norm’ when seen from the antecedents of western historical perspective. With the industrial revolution, Europe gained enormous powers as a consequence of the newly discovered (industrial) capacity to produce more and at cheaper costs. This translated into the building of sea-going vessels with which they began their forays into other lands.

By the late 19th century (1884 – 5), the infamous partitioning of Africa was already a done deal at the Berlin Conference. From the partitioning emerged the colonial experience (on both sides of the divide – colonizers and the colonized) as we know it today.

The US, though not a colony holding power in the classical definition of it, did, however, inherit and garner a significant amount of influence on the international scene as a result of the devastating effects of WW II on Europe.

Unlike the West, it has been observed that China with its economic influence appears to have little or no influence on sovereign states in Africa including Nigeria…

This depends on your definition and therefore understanding of the word influence. If you view it from the point of view of the ability to coerce our continent to do their bidding in the classical case of gunboat diplomacy, then you are correct.

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But, permit me to observe that because of the advent of neo-colonialism, former colonial powers are wont to exercise the same if not more power than they did while operating the full colonial machinery. Do not forget, however, that there exist the concept and practice of soft power. In politics (and particularly in international politics), soft power is a term used to refer to the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce (contrast hard power).

In other words, soft power involves shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. This is what, in my opinion, the Chinese are deploying in their engagements with the rest of the world, including with the US. Credit facilities from the Chinese to several countries lend credence to her use of economic diplomacy to consolidate her soft power.

Earlier than this era of provision of credit, you can recall that the move to love China had begun in the 1970s with Chinese films and cuisine. These two laid the foundation for the economic model that we are witnessing now, including, of course, the $900 billion Silk Road project. In Africa, China built and donated the Headquarters of the African Union (AU). That project cost the Chinese taxpayer some USD 200 million.

Please, know that in the cloak-and-dagger world of the diplomatic interface, there is nothing like a free lunch. And there is the biennial event of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that takes all 53 African countries to Beijing every two years. With all this, one can conclude China does influence ‘sovereign African countries’. It is, indeed, a deepening phenomenon that has drawn the envy and interest of the rest of the world and consequently led to what pundits have called the new scramble for Africa.

Since the US and China are strategic partners to Nigeria, in the light of the not too friendly relationship between them, how can Nigeria manage its relationship with each of them?

Nigeria’s diplomatic engagement must be fine-tuned to include consistency and tenacity with long-term strategic views as our focus. More often than not, there are a lot of policy somersaults and inconsistencies. So much so that our objective foreign policy goals change from one administration to the other and at times the changes are glaring from one foreign minister to the other, even within the lifespan of an administration.

However, if you mean the future of the relationship between Nigeria and China, then my recommendation is that Nigeria must do some house cleaning by emphasizing continuity as opposed to policy summersault. Furthermore, in going for negotiations, square pegs must be in square holes.

In saying this, I have in mind how China came to acquire Addax oil from the open market. China’s entry into our oil industry should have been on a government-to-government (G2G) basis as some of us advocated. Asian countries respect, indeed, love G2G!

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