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This article appears in the February 17, 2023 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

[Print version of this article]

Prof. Liu Haifang

African Development: A Chinese Perspective

Prof. Liu Haifang is Associate Professor at the School of International Studies and Director of the Center for African Studies at Beijing University. She is also Vice-Secretary General of the Chinese Society of African Historical Studies. She previously worked at the Institute for Asian and West African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and was a visiting scholar at the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague.

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Schiller Institute
Liu Haifang

My topic is really trilateral cooperation. As a scholar, also working in one of China’s older universities, properly also prodigious, and then serving as Director for the Center of African Studies, I also frequently receive guests, either from the African continent, and beyond, and all coming to discuss either African development or China-African cooperation.

So, for many years, trilateral cooperation is also a topic, and either from academic levels, or from other areas, people also come to discuss this issue with me. And from one of those kinds of groups, they are American diplomats who are resident in Beijing, and I still very clearly recall, since 2015, the year our leader participated in the UN General Assembly, and he noted how U.S. and China should have more cooperation on African affairs, and also, of course, for other developing countries, to join hands to be friends.

And then, soon enough, the two governments signed an MOU about U.S.-China trilateral cooperation, and those diplomats started to frequently come to my office, and we talked a lot of the time over coffee, over how to enhance [our cooperation]. And, of course, I had my previous investigations, my interactions with so many Chinese companies in Africa, so that’s what I could offer to exchange with American colleagues.

But suddenly, around 2017-2018, each year, they came many times, but they stopped asking these questions again, and then, they started to focus only on what are the new developments in China-African cooperations, what are new measures, and so on and so forth; and likewise, when I received German colleagues, EU colleagues working in either Beijing or elsewhere, they also switched the topic.

So that’s why, from 2017-2018, I started to ask back: What’s wrong with you? You don’t ask me about trilateral cooperation anymore? Why have you stopped asking? And, of course, we all understand the changes coming from those moments.

And I guess, today’s topic, when Schiller Institute organizes such a conference about this heavy change, this epochal change of the era, it didn’t start from nowhere, nor did it start with the Ukraine war. It rather had already been there, and we as scholars can understand it from a little bit longer perspective.

Another very quick case is about Sudan’s case. We all know that when Sudan’s Bashir government had a very bad relationship with U.S., the U.S. was sanctioning, and then there was no business diplomat at all, the dialogue actually started from China. The U.S. government relied on the Chinese special envoys so much; the Chinese special envoy was also put in place as a new mechanism started by them. So, for one hour, the Chinese-American scholar or government representative, we sat together discussing about the older, beautiful days of China trilateral cooperation. We never, ever forget about understanding such an important case.

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Courtesy of Liu Haifang
South Sudan: He Xiangdong, Chinese Ambassador to South Sudan (6th from right) shakes hands with Onyoti Adigo Nyikuac, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, celebrating the donation of 349 pieces of agricultural machinery by the Chinese government, to enable South Sudan to reinvigorate and transform its agricultural sector amid food insecurity caused by five years of conflict. Juba, Dec. 13, 2018.

But this is not only part of how, politically, the U.S. can use China as a channel to work with one of those “fragile [countries],” or whatever bad word that the U.S. government back then would use for that. And then we know that Sudan was separated into the two—this is in South Sudan. And then, different Chinese actors have been joining this country, and doing lots of different types of development programs.

Four of my students, who graduated with master’s degrees, didn’t find proper places to show their capacities inside China, so they decided to go to Africa, and in Uganda, they identified in this country the oil sector is going to be booming, and soon enough we knew there would be oil produced.

So, in around 2017, when they first arrived, they noticed, indeed, there is really such an important need to help people prepare for the scale. So they had such a company, maybe we can call it social entrepreneur, because they don’t have lots of investment, they cannot invest even for business or other investment. And then they are all professionally trained in the oil sector, so therefore, they started such an academy, the Sunmaker Oil and Gas Institute, to train local people.

And soon enough, they had lots of success and lots of acknowledgment from the Ugandan government. The Ugandan government now even uses their academy as the one pioneer to help with their youth development. And they have now moved to South Sudan about two or three years ago. [Box: China’s Idea of Developmental Peace Is Not the Liberal Approach]

So during the whole period, they have trained so many people in South Sudan. For me, South Sudan’s issue has lots of dimensions, not only about the politics, how the North and the South couldn’t get along. There are also other very important issues—livelihood, and where the youth can have a proper livelihood. So, in such a program these several young, Chinese graduates, they brought lots of American and European scholars and engineers, helping with training. And then for some time, they also had their Chinese technicians to be teachers to train the local people.

Their academy, the Sunmaker Oil and Gas Institute, has almost become the only one in many countries. Now they have branches in Ethiopia, in Tanzania, in Kenya, in the Seychelles, and they are preparing to move to many more.

And they are such change-makers for me, truly the change-makers. And they are bringing different people, from different countries together to help with solving Africa’s very urgent need to provide jobs, provide proper training for the youth.

So, quickly coming to my main topic: today’s international environment is so bad for China, for China’s collaboration with different partners, and I think the misunderstanding is the main thing. During those beautiful older days, as I said in the past 10 years’ time, with lots of trilateral cooperation, people have promised so much knowledge from different partners, what you could handle, what the other is strong in, and then what Africa is good at, so that the trilateral cooperation there was really helping, and the global development agenda was progressing in a very nice, very beautiful way.

But then, suddenly, in these recent years, we don’t know what happened. We only know that there are bad impressions and a very negative attitude toward China as a whole. This is very much a pity for us. My older colleagues will all speak to our European or American colleagues: Please don’t worry about China-African relations, because what our China does in Africa is so much supervised or monitored by so many different stakeholders.

I think this only could happen in a period of time, or in a working mode like the trilateral cooperation, if you could have a candid dialogue, if you could have a good relationship, even to pursue a trilateral cooperation, then each side could harness the momentum and then develop further.

Now, all this has stopped. And for me, this is such a pity, and I want to use this older period of time, the past trilateral cooperation stories, to show how the liberal international development order or the attitude of peace is important. Please don’t neglect that China’s own development peace is also contributing to the world’s development. And then it specifically helped to deal with poverty, to deal with lack of skills, and it helped with the people’s livelihood and therefore can be helpful for a self-sustaining future for the whole human species.

So for me, this is my main purpose. I really hope all people from different parts of the world can jointly work to have a human-centered perspective, to really help each other, instead of to let this world go down, and then to even have war, and see the worst situation happen.

China’s Idea of Developmental Peace Is Not the Liberal Approach

Prof. Liu displayed these conclusions during her speech.

 The current mainstream theory of peacebuilding is the liberal approach, which is also the guide and principle of the Western countries and international organizations (United Nations, World Bank, etc.) to practice in conflict-affected areas

 China’s perception of peace building: aims to resolve conflicts by addressing the root causes of conflicts and it includes all social, political and economical measures.

 Chinese scholars: Developmental Peace is not only a goal, but also a process of peacebuilding.

 Developmental Peace theory, meaning to promote sustainable peace through development. “Development” has three dimensions: economic growth; effective development and governance; and the right to survival and development (the basic form of human rights). [back to text]

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