By Olufunke Johnson
The Confucius Institute (CI) at the University of Lagos in collaboration with Nigeria-China Friendship Association (NICAF) and Nigeria-China Business Council has organized a symposium with the theme ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative of China.
The event which was held at the Golden Gate Restaurant, Ikoyi, Lagos, focused on China and Nigeria in relation to shared interests and shared future.
In his welcome remark, the Chairman of Nigeria- China Business Council, Chief Jacob Wood noted that few days before the symposium, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo paid him a courtesy visit, to convey his kind wishes on the occasion of the celebration of the Chinese New Year. The visit was in recognition of the great role China is playing in the development of Nigeria.
Co-Director Confucius Institute Unilag, Professor Jongjing Wang, in her presentation said the main objective of the symposium is to create public awareness on China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and the roles of the Confucius Institute in pursuance of the initiative which was initiated in 2013 by President Xi Jinping; and that the goals of the Confucius Institute at University of Lagos are to teach Chinese language, Introducing Chinese Cultures like martial arts, calligraphy, Chinese knot, Training and recommending CI students to Chinese enterprises, use of Chinese language and Chinese cooking, as well as organizing summer camps annually.
Professor Wang further noted that OBOR initiative was based on the cooperation principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, mutual learning, inclusiveness and equality adding that in 200BC, the Silk Road, maritime road under the Han dynasty, provided trade platform for products such as silk, jades, tea, Chinese traditional medicines and gifts as it was also an avenue for cultural exchanges. She said the Silk Road initiative was designed to connect China and Europe, Asia and Africa for purposes of trade and economic cooperation in a win-win arrangement “China’s international economic cooperation was to focus on trade and investment as well as infrastructure development in the areas of high-tech transportation, energy, telecommunication, agriculture. Implementation of the OBOR has also been in the form of the establishment of free trade and industrial zones in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. The initiative was aimed at pursuing economic prosperity, social progress and political stability. Sino-Africa relationship is predicated on the principles of sincerity, friendship, equality, win-win cooperation and mutual development. Today, OBOR has become an important platform for international cooperation, African countries should synergize in order to play active roles in the beneficial/ construction of OBOR in the development of Africa”.
In keeping with the similar objectives of NICAF and CI, the collaboration between the two bodies was aimed at focusing more attention on how their common objectives can be further consolidated as strong bridge between China and Nigeria relations. Additionally, it was geared towards expanding the educational, socioeconomic, friendly, and diplomatic relationship between Nigeria, the most populous and the biggest economy in Africa, and China, the most populous country in the world and the world’s second biggest economy. The symposium highlighted the impacts of the OBOR and examined the strategies of the Confucius Institute for the implementation of the scheme in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.
The pioneer Director of the Confucius Institute, University of Lagos professor Duro Oni, in his presentation described the OBOR project as a good initiative which is about planning for a long time with periods of implementation.
Participants at the symposium identified Challenges to the OBOR initiative as prohibitive custom fees, border protocols and delays, geographical hurdles to road and rail construction as well as border disputes. Other challenges raised were non-readiness of the private sector to participate in the OBOR initiative in Africa; as well as Rising nationalism as opposed to economic integration like the case of Brexit amongst others.
After much deliberations, it was however recommended that there is the need for greater diplomatic effort to persuade countries covered in the OBOR scheme implementation scope to actively embrace the initiative, China should engage more in positive diplomacy to boost mutual trust and forestall possible undermining of the OBOR initiative by the west; China should engage in high level political advocacy to reduce suspicion and fears of new economic imperialism by treating participating countries as equal partners; Nigeria should be more forward looking in its strategic calculations for national development by making long term plans and efficient implementation strategies like China and also seek to take advantage of China’s expertise to develop its maritime industry;
The symposium was attended by renowned academic scholars, seasoned diplomats, entrepreneurs and men of the pen profession. NICAF was represented by Professor Bola Akinterinwa, while the Confucius Institute at University of Lagos was represented by Professor Jongjing, Professor Chimdi Maduagu, Prof. Segun Awonusi amongst others.
NICAF was established on November 11, 1994 with the objectives of promoting friendship and solidarity between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China in all spheres of human endeavour, on one hand; and to enhance the positive understanding of the Nigerian perception of China and the Chinese perception of Nigeria, on the other hand. The Confucius Institute was established as a platform for forging cooperation between China and Nigeria with objectives of language teaching, culture exchanges, community links, interpersonal and group relations as well as technological and scientific cooperation.
In his closing remarks, the designated representative of NICAF Trustees, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, expressed immense appreciation to the Proprietor of Golden Gate Restaurant who also doubles up as the Chairman of Nigeria-China Business Council for successfully hosting the event.