With the rapid development of China-Africa and China-Russia relations in recent years, the high-level exchange visits between China and African countries and Russia have also increased accordingly. Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), will travel to Africa and Russia in mid-September in the latest of these exchange visits. In a written interview with ChinAfrica and Beijing Review, Fu Ying, Chairwoman of the NPC Foreign Affairs Committee, shared her views on some of the benefits and challenges facing these relations and the role of Chairman Zhang's visit in continuing to develop these ties. Full text of this interview follows:
Several of China's top leaders have visited Africa this year. Chairman Zhang Dejiang will soon join this growing list. What message will his visit send to Africa and what will be some of the highlights?
Chairman Zhang’s visit to Africa is important for China’s diplomatic efforts on the continent in the wake of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in March this year. This indicates the great importance China’s new leadership attaches to Sino-African relations and China’s positive attitude in enhancing mutual understanding and cooperation.
China and African countries enjoy deep traditional friendship. China’s ongoing progress in its reform and opening up and the African continent’s accelerated rate of development offer greater spaces and opportunities for China-Africa cooperation. This can be seen in the following aspects:
First, the convergence of economic interests between China and Africa is expanding. In 2009, China emerged as Africa’s largest trade partner, with both sides showing increased demands of trade and investment.
Second, communication channels have become increasingly diversified. Besides exchanges on government levels, people-to-people contacts are also growing. Based on the all-round development in bilateral relations, China and Africa have developed sound coordination and cooperation in a multilateral framework.
Third, there is no great divergence between China and Africa and we regard each other’s success as our respective development opportunities. More importantly, China’s success is an inspiration to African countries and serves as a great motivator.
These factors have provided additional avenues in further developing Sino-African relations, enabling Sino-African cooperation to shift into the fast lane and make prominent achievements in various fields. Of course, with the increase of bilateral cooperation and diversification of players, new challenges and requirements also emerge, which we should deal with jointly.
While visiting Africa in March, President Xi said that developing Sino-African relations is an ongoing process that will never stop. But how to develop this relationship in accordance with the era changes is a new challenge to be faced. During his visit, Chairman Zhang will focus on the new situations and needs for developing China-Africa relations. On the one hand, he will convey the message of China’s eternal friendship and constant concern about Africa; while on the other hand, he will earnestly listen to the opinions and suggestions of African state leaders and show the positive attitude of China’s new legislature toward cooperation with Africa.
Chairman Zhang's visit to Uganda will be the first time for a top leader of China’s legislature to set foot in this country for the past 51 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations. His agenda mainly includes: meeting with Ugandan leaders, a talk with Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Ugandan Parliament, and visiting the office building of the Ugandan Government, which is constructed with China’s aid.
The second leg of Zhang’s Africa visit takes him to Nigeria. This year has been an important one for China-Nigeria bilateral relations. In July, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan came to China for a state visit and he proposed and discussed many suggestions and ideas in enhancing bilateral cooperation. Chairman Zhang will meet President Jonathan to discuss cooperation while sharing sentiments of friendship between our two countries. He will also meet with David Mark, President of the Senate, and Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, as well as Bamanga Tukur, National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party. During his stay in Nigeria, Zhang will attend a series of cultural activities, such as the opening ceremony of the Chinese Cultural Center, “Experience China” activity and premiere of a Hausa-dubbed TV play series Beijing Love Story.
What position does the Sino-African relationship occupy in China’s overall diplomatic strategy? How can legislatures promote the development of such relations through exchanges and cooperation?
I’ve noticed that the outside world is showing great interest in Sino-African relations in recent years. There are increasing discussions and media reports on this topic. Many foreign parliamentary delegations also asked about China’s attitude and stance on African issues while visiting China. For China, Africa, home to the largest number of developing countries, has always been the basis for China’s diplomacy. For a long time, African countries have provided important support to China in international political affairs and they are the forces China must rely on in realizing peaceful development - also economically, African countries are China’s important partners. It is a long-term fundamental policy of China to unite and cooperate with African countries.
China’s new leadership has a clear focus in developing friendship and cooperation with Africa. While visiting Africa, President Xi positioned Sino-African relationship as “a community of shared destinies” and vividly illustrated China’s Africa policy with words like “sincerity,” “real results,” “affinity” and “good faith.” He noted that China will intensify, not weaken, its efforts to expand relations with Africa. Against the current background of complicated global changes, it is important for China and African countries to strengthen unity and coordination so as to effectively deal with challenges and maintain the interests of developing countries.
Legislatures can maximize the advantages in governmental and non-governmental channels and China’s NPC has established sound exchange and cooperative relations with parliaments of various African countries, including Nigeria and Uganda.
The emphasis of our work now includes: First, providing legal services for Sino-African cooperation. In recent years, an increasing number of Chinese people are going to Africa for investment and development opportunities; so is the number of African people coming to China for doing business and seeking advanced studies. On the one hand, we should urge the governments to earnestly protect citizens’ legal rights and interests and adopt better measures to facilitate personnel exchange by consulting and signing related agreements; while on the other hand, we should strengthen education on the citizens of our respective countries, helping them improve their legal awareness so that they will abide by the laws of the countries where they live and work and get along in harmony with local people.
Second, carrying forward the traditional friendship jointly established and nurtured by leaders of the previous generations. In promoting the deep friendship between China and Africa, we should extensively present success stories on Sino-African cooperation so as to broaden public opinion and intensify our increasingly stronger and prosperous relations. The foundation of Sino-African friendship is among the people and our hope is placed on the youth. We should enable people, especially the youth, to learn more about each other so as to infuse the Sino-African friendship with new vitality.
Third, communicating ideas more effectively. By sharing experiences, we learn about each other’s development, and by introducing China's history of development, we encourage African countries to choose their own development paths that suit local conditions.
Fourth, bridging Sino-African pragmatic cooperation. Utilizing the advantages of numerous talented people and wide connections, legislatures can actively assist to solve the difficulties and problems that emerge in cooperative activities.
Western critics often classify China’s presence in Africa as neo-colonialism, while ignoring China’s contribution to the continent’s economic development. What do you think of such criticisms? What adjustments should be made in our relations with Africa?
Few people in Africa believe in such accusations. Having suffered from colonialism, African people know what colonialism is. South African President Jacob Zuma has said clearly that China has never colonized Africa but rather helps Africa to rely on itself.
In general, the development of Sino-African relations has promoted economic and social development in Africa, which is applauded by African countries and peoples and wins affirmation and praise from the international community. I have read many articles written by international scholars in African affairs. They believe that the cooperation between China and African countries and Chinese business operations in Africa have brought preferential influences and important contributions to Africa’s development.
Some Western observers show concern over China importing resources from Africa, but in reality, Western countries are the major importers of resources from Africa. For instance, two thirds of oil produced in Africa goes to the United States and European countries. China-Africa cooperation in various areas, including resources, is conducted on a mutually-beneficial and win-win basis.
In terms of adjustments, I think our cooperative ties should be constantly strengthened to meet the new needs arising due to the situation changes.
First, both sides should keep themselves up to date with each other’s developments and people’s demands, so as to better define our cooperation focus. African people are eager to escape from poverty and pursue industrialization, which are the same aspirations as the Chinese people. While formulating African cooperation strategies, China should study and respond to the development plans of African countries and regional organizations and promote bilateral relations with various countries in light of their respective conditions.
Second, both sides should actively participate in each other’s industrialization processes. African countries place high expectations on their cooperation with China and subsequently China should do more to help African countries improve their capacities in governance and independent development. China should not only “give them fish,” but also “teach them how to fish.” For instance, Chinese enterprises have contracted many projects in Africa, but if local capacities in production, transportation, management and maintenance are insufficient, these projects are unlikely to function well.
In terms of agricultural cooperation, China can help Africa improve grain production so as to increase global grain supply and better solve the problem of poverty. In addition, industrial transfer can help Africa build up its manufacture industry and promote industrialization. This way, African countries are able to develop independently in their cooperation with China.
Third, we should further strengthen people-to-people contacts to enhance mutual understandings and identification. China Central Television recently broadcast live footage of wildlife migration in Africa. This program was widely applauded in China and will surely bring more tourists to Africa.
Non-governmental exchanges between China and Africa should descend to the community level so that people at grassroots level can benefit from Sino-African friendship and thus become firm supporters and participants in this cooperation.
Fourth, we should increase the sense of responsibility of Chinese enterprises. We need to realize that there are many opportunities, as well as challenges, in the process of accelerating Sino-African cooperation. Both sides should treat the issue earnestly. For China, helping Africa means helping ourselves. We should stress more on what is right, instead of just profiting from our cooperation with Africa and encourage our enterprises to participate in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, while also building markets and networks so as to increase local employment.
In general, we will firmly continue our Africa policy featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges to constantly promote the new type of strategic partnership with Africa.
As the legislature, the NPC should make use of its advantage of having deputies coming from the community level. While communicating with their African peers, they could tell their own stories, so as to enhance African people’s understanding of China and provide sound political guarantees for the development of Sino-African relations.
In recent years, trade between China and Nigeria has increased rapidly. What sectors should be further strengthened in our bilateral economic and trade cooperation?
A country with the largest population and the second largest economy in Africa, Nigeria boasts large markets and abundant energy and resources. China and Nigeria complement each other in economic structure with large spaces for mutual beneficial cooperation. Both countries have expanded cooperation in many areas, such as trade, infrastructure construction, energy, agriculture and telecommunications and have made solid achievements. Many cooperation projects with Nigeria were the first of their kinds China conducted in Africa. Nigeria is now China’s third largest trade partner and second largest export market in Africa, while China is Nigeria’s largest source of imports. Bilateral trade has exceeded $10 billion for two successive years and doubled every five years.
During his visit, Chairman Zhang will exchange views on further enhancing cooperation with Nigeria in various fields, listen to opinions and suggestions, and learn about and find solutions for the difficulties and challenges faced by both governments and enterprises. He will focus on promoting cooperation in areas such as the economy and trade and people-to-people contacts through exchanges between legislatures of both sides, to push forward the solid advancement of strategic partnership between the two countries.
What is your view on current China-Russia relations? How will Chairman Zhang’s visit influence bilateral relations, especially between the legislative organs of the two countries?
China and Russia enjoy a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership. In March, President Xi Jinping paid a state visit of historical significance to Russia. He met with President Vladimir Putin again recently at the G20 summit. The two state leaders reached a consensus on a wide range of issues and agreed with each other completely on ways to promote cooperation. This high-standard political relationship has resulted in many tangible benefits and positive changes. When the two leaders met in St. Petersburg on September 5, they witnessed the signing of many important documents concerning cooperation in areas such as energy, aviation and communication between local governments. Relations between China and Russia have entered a new phase.
The most special part of China-Russia relations is that the mutual political trust is based on the real situation in the 21st century. We hold identical or similar views almost on all major global and regional issues. At home, we both have to develop our economies and improve the people’s livelihoods. Internationally, we both favor peace and stability, stand for dialogue and cooperation and advocate the purposes and principles of the UN Charter be upheld. We both want to comply with the elementary requirements of international law.
Moreover, both China and Russia are emerging markets. In view of the global economic turmoil, we share the common view that the world needs more coordination and cooperation and all emerging markets should work together closely to weather the storm. To put it simply, there are no substantial obstacles in the relations between China and Russia. The two countries are true good neighbors.
Inter-parliamentary cooperation constitutes a major part of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Russia. Progress in bilateral ties offers more opportunities but also poses greater challenges in the cooperation of the two countries’ legislative bodies. In 2005, the cooperation committee between China’s NPC and the Russian Federation Council was set up, a sign that the legislative dialogue has become regular. The committee is China’s only institution for high-level communication and exchange led by the NPC chairman. It is one of the most active and effective regular diplomatic programs between China’s NPC and a foreign parliament. Thanks to the committee, the two institutions have exchanged experiences on social management and other issues and made great efforts to promote practical cooperation in such fields as local economic cooperation and cultural exchanges.
Facilitating international economic and trade cooperation is an important diplomatic mission of the NPC. During its communication with local governments and enterprises, it has accumulated many constructive suggestions and proposals on enhancing economic and trade cooperation with Russia, such as how to get rid of transport bottlenecks, how to facilitate bilateral trade and how to tackle the difficulties enterprises face in their development. The cooperation committee between the two countries’ legislative bodies will serve as a platform for the two institutions to exchange information and find solutions to problems.
Chairman Zhang’s visit to Russia will play a significant historical role, because it is his first state visit to Russia after being elected NPC chairman. He will attend the seventh meeting of the cooperation committee, which is the first meeting between the new session of NPC and the Russian Federation Council. During the visit, Chairman Zhang is expected to meet with Russian leaders, including Valentina Matvienko,Chairwoman of the Federation Council, and both will attend the seventh meeting of their cooperation committee. Chairman Zhang will also meet his old friend Sergey Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma, for further discussion on enhancing legislative cooperation. I believe that Chairman Zhang’s visit will achieve many things.
In recent years, people-to-people exchanges between China and Russia have developed smoothly. In your opinion, what role do these exchanges play?
The active people-to-people exchanges between China and Russia represent the harmonious relationship between the two countries. Since mechanism for the exchanges was established in 2000, there has been fruitful bilateral cooperation in education, culture, health services, sports, tourism, media, film, and the communication between the young people of the two countries. For example, China and Russia have successfully held several big themed events, such as the “National Year,” “Language Year” and “Tourism Year,” which have had a positive social impact. From 2014-2015, the “China-Russia Youth Friendly Exchange Year” will be held in both countries.
China and Russia are countries with profound cultural heritages, and both have made a great contribution to global civilization. Bilateral cultural exchanges have influenced generations of people. Russian literature and music have left a deep impression on my generation. The cultures of China and Russia have seen new development in the process of modernization. We should communicate more and learn from each other. The younger generation, in particular, should get to know each other and build strong ties of friendship in order to lay a solid foundation for the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership.
The legislative authorities of the two countries have unique advantages in pushing forward people-to-people exchanges. At the seventh meeting of the cooperation committee between the NPC and the Russian Federation Council, the two countries will hold a dialogue on people-to-people exchanges and exchange views on an agreement for cooperation in this field.
The Chinese dream propounded by Chinese leaders has aroused interest globally. Western media have their own interpretation of the concept. How can we clearly explain the Chinese dream to Africans (foreigners) and help them realize the opportunities this dream can bring them?
The Chinese dream visually depicts the great revival of the Chinese nation and reflects the ideals and pursuance of the Chinese people of several generations. In addition, we have never been so close to the ideal like we are today. As President Xi and other new state leaders have said, realizing the dream means people have better education, greater job security, a more decent income, better social security, improved medical and health services, more comfortable living conditions and a more beautiful environment. China has a solid basis and policy support to put forward this dream and to help the Chinese people pursue their own dreams.
The 18th National Party Congress put forward the goals of doubling China’s 2010 GDP and per-capita income for both urban and rural residents by 2020 and turning China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by 2049. These are the two key historical junctures in realizing the Chinese dream. A developing power with a population of 1.35 billion, China has made great efforts to achieve this grand goal and will continue to do so. This is not an easy task. It is the greatest mission of the Chinese nation.
Many people outside of China are concerned about the relationship between the Chinese dream and the world at large. They ask, when the Chinese dream is realized, how will it influence other countries? I think we need to let them know that the realization of the Chinese dream follows the general trend of global development.
First, to realize the Chinese dream, we need a peaceful and stable international environment. China itself should also make efforts in this regard. Thus, the Chinese dream will be a positive energy in maintaining peace and stability. China will continue to develop itself in a peaceful manner, adhere to its diplomatic policy of independence and peace and follow the principle of not seeking hegemony or power politics. In this regard, we should maintain national consensus.
Second, the realization of the Chinese dream means sustainable development of China itself. After a country with a population 1.3 billion enters a higher level of development, it will surely contribute to the economic development in its neighboring countries, and the world, and bring more global opportunities. China will position itself globally in various layers, including resources, markets and even capital and talent personnel. Thus, it also needs to launch more mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries.
Third, the Chinese dream is the same as the dreams of people in other developing countries and they supplement each other. In the process of realizing its dream, China is also able to share its development experience and opportunities with other countries. At the same time, we also need to foster our consciousness and capacity of supplying international public goods.
On this trip, Chairman Zhang will exchange views on these issues with leaders of the four countries, introduce the Chinese dream and China’s development plans and learn about their opinions to enhance political mutual trust and promote friendly cooperation.
How can we expound on the unique roles of the people’s congress in communicating with other countries, so that it can better serve the national diplomatic efforts?
The people’s congress sees communicating with other countries as a part of China’s overall diplomatic program. This communication of the NPC and people’s congresses at various levels makes up the important channel promoting China’s international contacts. For many years, the NPC has actively promoted high-level communication, encouraged institutional exchanges and enhanced friendship with parliaments in various countries and multilateral parliamentary organizations.
This communication by the people's congress should reflect people’s will and maintain national sovereignty, security and development interests. The 12th NPC focuses on the following aspects in its foreign communication:
First, enhancing the international community’s understanding of China’s political system and development path in order to maintain a sound external environment for national development. Hence, we should actively introduce to the outside world the system of the people’s congress and the achievements made in China’s democratic and legal construction, publicize China’s peaceful development path and convey the will and opinions of the Chinese people. Special efforts should be made in relation to people’s work, and in-depth exchanges concerning people’s universal interests should be conducted, so as to increase mutual understanding.
Second, expanding legislative exchanges. Different countries have different political systems and are in different development phases. However, most countries pursue a common goal of seeking development and improving people’s livelihoods. In its foreign communication, the NPC deems it important to share governance experience and learn from the legislative experiences of other sovereign states. These exchanges can all help improve our socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics.
Third, actively learning about and promoting solutions to the challenges in international cooperation. Many deputies to the people’s congress are experts and scholars in areas such as the economy and trade, science and technology and environmental protection. There are also many entrepreneurs. In foreign communications, their expertise and experience can play very important roles. Before the visit, we had a symposium with some deputies to the NPC and local people’s congresses to listen to their suggestions and opinions. With their input we were better able to prepare for the visit.