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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming attends and answers questions at panel discussion of the Concordia Africa Initiative

On 28th February, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming was invited as the key panelist to the Concordia Africa Initiative London moderated by John Danilovich, former Secretary General of International Chamber of Commerce and former Ambassador of United States to Brazil. The panel discussion was attended by over 150 people from the United Kingdom, the United States as well as African countries, including H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, H.E Joffre Van-Dunem Junior, Minister of Trade of Angola, H.E. Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia and Cherie Blair CBE, Chair of Omnia Strategy. The following is the transcript of the panel discussion.

Danilovich: We are aware of China's role in Africa, particularly in past decade. The relationship is strong and vibrant in almost all Africa. There is enormous and sharp increase in China's trade and investment in Africa in recent years. I would like to ask you, Ambassador, to make a comment on that, and if you can highlight the key areas of China's interest in Africa.

Ambassador Liu: China has a very long traditional relationship with Africa. I myself have been posted to Africa twice. Forty-three years ago, I was a junior diplomatic officer in Zambia and witnessed the handover of the railway, Tazara in 1976. Later on I became Chinese Ambassador to Egypt. I did have a connection with Africa.

China is the largest developing country in the world and Africa is the continent with the largest number of developing countries. We are glad to see trade and investment between China and Africa getting stronger. In 2018, the total trade between China and Africa is about 204 billion US dollars. The total investment stock is 110 billion US dollars. The summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was held in Beijing last year. All fifty-four African members sent representatives, including forty heads of state and ten heads of government. During that summit, President Xi Jinping announced eight major initiatives, including industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health care and so on.

When I was in Africa, China and Africa was in a unilateral aid relationship, in which China provided aid while Africa countries received. But now the cooperation is more multi-dimensional and there are more win-win projects. The relationship is also more open to other countries.

We believe lack of infrastructure is a bottleneck for Africa development, so we cooperated in a lot of infrastructure projects in recent year. As for major projects, one is Mombasa-Nairobi railway, which is the largest infrastructure project in Kenya since its independence. It has been very successful. With the completion of this railway, the cost of transportation could be brought down by 40%. It created 46,000 jobs and provided training programs for 45,000 people. This railway contributed to 1.5% of Kenya's GDP growth. Another one is the N1 Road in the Republic of Congo. This highway covers three million people, about two thirds of total population in Congo. It is called "Dream Road" and provided 10,000 jobs both directly and indirectly. We believe that the connectivity in a country and among African countries could improve Africa's industrial capability.

Danilovich: Thank you for bringing so many intriguing points for us to consider. China has initiated Belt and Road Initiative which inherits the spirit of ancient Silk Road. You mentioned Mombasa, an important port on Belt and Road, if you could comment on China Africa relationship and Belt and Road, please?

Ambassador Liu: Belt and Road is one of the areas where China and Africa work together. At the Beijing summit in last year, 28 African countries signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Belt and Road. Belt and Road is about China wanting to share its development opportunities with other countries, especially developing countries, to achieve common development. The core of Belt and Road is connectivity.

The first one is infrastructure connectivity. Infrastructure is not only about connecting places but more importantly about connecting people. I gave you the example of Congo's "Dream Road". That road is more than 400 kilometers long, and three million people are connected by it with the outside world, bringing their dreams closer to reality. China attaches great importance to infrastructure from development experience. In China we have a saying: "If you want to get rich, build roads first". China's development and infrastructure construction are inseparable.

I worked as Assistant Governor in Gansu, a western province of China. Gansu is also an important province for the Belt and Road Initiative, with 1,600 kilometer ancient Silk Road running through the province. In the past, Gansu Province was a "landlocked province". Compared with the eastern coastal provinces of China, it lacked geographical advantages. However, the Belt and Road Initiative changed the "landlocked province" into "land-connected province" and opened broad prospects for development. We hope that the development of the Belt and Road Initiative will turn more "landlocked countries" in the world into "land-connected countries" and create more development opportunities.

The second area is trade facilitation. China has built 25 economic zones with African countries in Africa, creating 41 thousand jobs and improving industrial capabilities of African countries. China hosted the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai last year, specifically exempting the participation fees of Africa's least developed countries. In addition, it is also decided that we launch a China-Africa economic and trade expo targeting Africa to introduce African goods into the Chinese market. In the past, China had a trade surplus with Africa and it was not a small number. But now China-Africa trade is more balanced. Last year, the total trade between China and Africa grew by 20%, much higher than China's trade with other regions. What is significant is that Africa's export to China has increased by 30%, and China has become the fastest growing market for African export.

Danilovich: Chinese export to Africa increased by 30%?

Ambassador Liu: No, Africa's export to China increased by 30%. I remember this figure so well because last year UK's export to China also exactly increased 30%, which means China is importing more and more goods from all over the world.

In addition, people to people connection is also very important. China attaches great importance to helping African countries improve their livelihood. Over the past few decades, China has built more than 300 schools and hospitals, and has dispatched 20,000 medical staff and cured over 200 million patients. Africa is a beautiful continent with abundant tourism resources. There were nearly 150 million Chinese traveling overseas last year, yet the number of people going to Africa is only one million. So there is great potential for tourism cooperation. I believed that as more Chinese tourists visit Africa, the understanding between the Chinese and African people will further deepen.

Danilovich: Thank you for your elaboration. For decades, growth in China has brought synergistic growth in Africa and China played a great role in African development. Much has been done in concept, application and implementation. However, there has been criticism on China's investment in Africa. What do you make of the criticism?

Ambassador Liu: We welcome the criticism of goodwill, but we reject the unreasonable accusations based on prejudice or labeling for no good reason. Recently, some western media focused on debt issue in Africa. Some people even said that it's China's fault, which is not correct. African debt is a long-standing historical problem, which does not happen today, nor is it caused by China. Many African friends have stood up to reject this. To solve the debt problem in Africa, the ultimate way is to help Africa with capability building and sustainable development, to enhance Africa's ability to pay debts. For this goal, the Beijing summit last year not only exempted the debts of the least developed African countries, but also launched eight major initiatives that promote Africa endogenous growth. Also, we believe the international community should increase its attention and effort on helping Africa with financing. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United States, the United Kingdom, can all work together to find a solution to help and benefit Africa.

Danilovich: You mentioned critical cooperation in the medical area, such as building hospitals in Africa. If I am correct, there are many cooperation projects in Africa between China and the United States, as well as China and other countries. At present, China and the US are having trade frictions. If China and the US can strengthen cooperation in Africa, it will not only benefit these two countries, but also benefit the world. Do you think so?

Ambassador Liu: Exactly. China has always been open on Africa-related cooperation. We are hoping for win-win partnership in Africa. We don't have a slogan that says "one's country first". We hope countries could work together to build a community with a shared future for mankind, and to benefit the development of African countries. China has cooperation with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and many other countries. Africa's largest suspension bridge was built in Mozambique by a Chinese company and the supervision was by a German company. An industrial park in Ethiopia was built and operated by a Chinese company, and it was a US company that helped attracting more companies to settle down there. The franchising of N1 Road in the Republic of Congo was won by a Chinese-French conglomerate. These examples show that as long as countries work together, they can share opportunities and jointly promote independent and sustainable development in Africa.

Danilovich: Terrific! Thank you for your wonderful talk. Our time is short and we have an opportunity to ask Ambassador a question you may have.

Audience: I have a question for Ambassador Liu. After the Second World War, for Europe development, United States implemented the Marshall Plan. China is now helping Africa to develop, is it similar to the Marshall Plan?

Ambassador Liu: I don't think there's comparison between China-Africa cooperation and the Marshall Plan. These two are very different. First of all, there is strong strategic intention in the Marshall Plan. The core is that the United States held Western European countries together to contain the Soviet Union. China has no strategic goal, but promoting economic development, engaging in win-win cooperation, and bringing benefits to the Chinese and African people. Second, China and Africa are equal partners in cooperation. China never seeks the lead in the cooperation. Third, China-Africa cooperation is open and inclusive. Whether they are American, European or Asian countries, they are welcome if they want to contribute to the development of Africa together. Finally, I would like to stress that China-Africa cooperation projects also follow multilateral rules and international standards. Cooperation between China and Africa is not on the bilateral level only, but is also on multilateral level. As an important multilateral financial institution, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank has won wide reputation internationally in the past three years. We encourage African countries to make better use of AIIB as well as Silk Road Fund to make China-Africa cooperation more diverse, more open and more colorful, and to have more fruitful results.

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