September 26th, 2011 | China Daily Civil interaction boosts Sino-African ties
At the end of last month, while attending the first session of the China-Africa People’s Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, the topic of foreign exploitation of Africa was raised.
“Certain Western media outlets say China is conducting ‘Neo-Colonialism’, but I do not believe that at all,” said one slightly excited delegate from Malawi. “Westerners governed Malawi for centuries, but when they left they did not leave us, the local people, any treasure. In contrast, China has only been forming diplomatic relations for a few years, but helped build our assembly building.”
His view was shared by most of the over 200 representatives from China and 18 African countries to the forum. During the meeting, through their friendly speeches and seminars that spoke highly of Sino-African relations, one could feel their deep sincerity and warmth toward the Chinese people.
Perhaps what one Kenyan representative said was typical. “In the drought and famine that hit the Horn of Africa this year, it was China that sent urgently wanted assistance. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and China is such a friend.”
Their words have given me a direct glimpse into how ordinary African people view China. Contrary to certain Western media outlets’ claims that China is a friend to African leaders only and not to the African people, the facts show that civil interaction between China and Africa is growing quickly.
Every year about 5,000 scholarship winners from Africa are continuing their academic careers in China’s colleges, while another 7,000 students are in China at their own expense. Footballers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia and Togo have long joined China’s football clubs, and their excellent skills and devotion attract greater attention than their Chinese colleagues. Through talent-show TV programs, several Africans, such as Uwechue Emmanuel, have even become stars in China.
The Chinese people’s enthusiasm for Africa is also increasing. During the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, the pavilions and facilities of 51 African countries and the African Union were among the hottest of all, and attracted a record 20 million visitors. Several African countries, like Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Mauritius, have opened direct flights to China, while over 30 African countries have become destinations for group tours from China.
Perhaps as a result of booming tourism, both Chinese language and culture have become popular among the younger generation of Africans. Walking on the streets of Nairobi, I am often greeted with ni hao from local people. Chinese snack shops are also opening here, offering Africans a host of new flavors. All the facts show that China and Africa are increasingly interacting with each other through civil channels.
It is through the deepening of such civil interactions that we feel the pulse of Sino-African relations and enjoy lasting friendships. But there is much to be improved, of course. Non-governmental organizations need to play a greater role in strengthening such interactions, and governments need to provide even more support.
In the forum that just ended, it was common to hear representatives say that Sino-African relations must be built by the people. The forum also proposed further strengthening civil interactions to promote friendship between China and Africa.
We hope these proposals can be accepted by all related governments for they are the true voices from the people’s hearts.
The author is a Beijing-based scholar of international relations.
By Jiang Jun