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China offers more opportunities to Nigeria, Africa as FOCAC summit begins in Beijing

Experts are upbeat that the 2018 summit of the Forum of China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), scheduled for Beijing, China between the September 3 and 4 has bountiful opportunities for Nigeria and other African countries to exploit in their growing diplomatic and trade ties with the People’s Republic of China.

 Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari will address the Summit in recognition of the strategic importance of Nigeria in the trade and investment with China. President Buhari is in China with a large entourage of businessmen and significant players in the private sector as well as key cabinet ministers and some state governments who desire to invite critical Chinese investments to their states.

Chijioke Ekechukwu, director-general of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) told BusinessDay that it is a win-win situation for Nigeria and China, while urging them to position to harvest chunk of the expected fund.

According to him, “It is important that we spearhead the China/Africa Business cooperation and benefit from the $60billion concession for infrastructural development of Africa. It is a win-win for both Africa and for China.‎”

The Director of Centre for China Studies (CCS), an Abuja intellectual think tank, Charles Onunaiju, who is also a writer and public affairs analyst, told BusinessDay in an interview that Nigeria stands to benefit more from FOCAC because of the huge opportunities in the country. He noted that five years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping, proposed the initiative of building the Silk and Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is an expanded part of the FOCAC, stressing that the Belt and Road Initiative is open to all countries.

According to Simon Ileuma, a deputy director in the Nigeria’s Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Nigeria is ready to participate fully in the summit saying “we have collected programmes and projects from the MDAs and sent to the President for his consideration because our ministry is the coordinating Ministry for the FOCAC.”

Speaking further on the FOCAC, ‎Celestine Okeke, Team lead, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises advocacy and support Initiative (MSMEs-ASI) told BusinessDay that the government must articulate high growth sectors to invest the funds targeting infrastructure.

“Government should articulate high growth sectors it can invest the funds in with a view to not only providing basic infrastructure, but also guaranteeing a multiplier,” Okeke said.

He noted further that the government should take deliberate measures to improve its trade relations with China, and be strategically positioned for a frontline dealing with China.

The theme of the Beijing summit is “China and Africa: Toward an Even Stronger Community with a Shared Future through Win-Win Cooperation.” Through this theme, Chinese Government has assured Nigerians and other African countries of its determination to expand its investments in critical areas of Nigeria’s economy to boost the burgeoning bilateral ties between China, Nigeria and the rest of the continent.

Since the inception of FOCAC in 2000, the benefits in terms of trade and investment, infrastructure development, education, energy (notably the $5.8 billion Mambilla Hydro –power project) expansion in agriculture and industry have started coming in bountifully into the Nigerian economy and social life.

On Thursday, July 12, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, formally flagged-off the Abuja Light Rail Mass Transit Project, constructed by China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC). This exercise has opened the rail for commercial services, which according to experts is fated to change the face of transportation in the Nigerian capital and could create about 10,000 jobs.

The Managing Director of CCECC, Jack Li, averred that the Accelerated Light Rail project is significant and beneficial in the sense that it is the first light rail in West Africa. He added that it was funded by China EXIM Bank with a concession loan of $500 million offered to the Nigerian government on preferential buyer credit agreement. He said further that the growing bilateral ties between China and Nigeria will be strengthened with the support of his country in both railway development and technology.

The Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, had said that all these investment drives are contained in the increasing bilateral collaboration with Africa. He said this  while making his remarks at the Forum of China-Nigeria Production Capacity and Investment Cooperation in Abuja recently even as he advised Nigeria to take advantage of the September summit to close the infrastructure deficits as China is willing to expand the investment with more funds.

Since FOCAC was launched in 2000, the Chinese government has remained consistent in its support funds to Africa. In the last FOCAC summit in Johannesburg in 2015, the Chinese government released $60 billion to Africa and is said to be preparing to make available about $100 billion, during the Beijing summit, from which Nigeria and other African countries can draw resources to improve their infrastructure and boost trade.

Pingjian noted that China has invested heavily on infrastructure development in Nigeria, saying “in Nigeria, the Abuja-Kaduna railway, Africa’s modern railway with the Chinese technology and standards, was commissioned in July 2016. The Abuja rail mass transit project, the first urban railway in West Africa was commissioned in July 2018. The Lagos-Ibadan railway broke ground in March 2017.

“The construction of the Lekki Deep Water Port, the largest port in West Africa, and the Zungeru hydropower station, the largest hydropower station in Nigeria are well under way. In the past year alone, the two sides have concluded concessionary financial arrangements to support five more major projects in Nigeria. Tens of thousands of jobs have been created for Nigerians by projects contracted by Chinese enterprises or partly financed by the Chinese side.

“As the largest developing country in the world, China takes deep pride in its ever stronger partnership with Nigeria, the largest developing country in Africa. It is our firm belief that the China-Nigeria cooperation is brotherly south-south cooperation between two equals and is indeed mutually beneficial. China remains committed to stepping up its cooperation with Nigeria in agriculture, manufacturing, industrial capacity and investment, infrastructure, energy, culture and people -to –people exchanges, and other areas,” he said.

The Chinese President Jinping had said that the Belt and Roads component of the FOCAC though originating from China belongs to the whole world. “Africa, being part of the historical and natural extension of the Belt and Road, has been an important participant in the initiative. The cooperation between China and Africa under the Belt and Road Initiative will generate more resources and means, expand the market and space for African development, and broaden its development prospects,” he added.

The Belt and Roads focuses on connectivity in the five areas including policy, infrastructure, trade, financing, and people to people exchanges. China seeks to align the initiative with the UN’s sustainable development and prosperity.

Belts and Roads was launched in 2013 and it refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road which seeks to serve as platform for international cooperation, and create new drivers for shared development to benefit more countries and peoples globally.

There is a general optimism that the Belt and Roads initiative will bring economic cooperation, regional integration, as well as sustainable and speedy economic growth for Africa through infrastructural connectivity. The initiative will also open new way for Africa’s economy, which is undergoing robust economic growth to integrate with the global economy. The Belt and Roads is also important particularly in terms of closing the Africa’s infrastructure gap.

Innocent Odoh and Harrison Edeh, Abuja
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