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NIGERIA/CHINA: TANGLED DIPLOMATIC WEB OVER TAIWAN

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Both as a journalist and now Civil Society activist, I have had the fortune of relating with China from a very close official proximity.

In 2005, whilst working in The Guardian, I was privileged to be selected as the only Nigerian print journalist together with a television journalist Mr. Coker of the Nigerian Television Authority on almost a month long sponsored tour of several cities in China, courtesy of the foreign office of China.

Now as a Civil Society activist, I was invited by Senator Shehu Sani to join him last week at a special dinner organized for him by the newly appointed Ambassador of China to Nigeria Dr. Zhou Pingjian in his official Abuja residence.

Although in African cosmology, it is wrong to speak whilst dinner is ongoing but we had swell times with the Chinese host and his team who hosted us for the better part of the night even as assorted Chinese Cuisines were generously served and appropriate justice done to them.

One issue struck me from the informal conversations that characterized the dinner during which time Senator Sani came with representatives of traders from his Kaduna Central Senatorial Zone.

This issue is the discovery without a shadow of doubt that 45 years back when Nigeria and China signed on to become diplomatic friends, there was a written understanding that Nigeria will recognize the “One China Policy” and not welcome Taiwan to set up its trade or diplomatic mission in Nigeria.

As my curiosity got the better part of me, I got to know that my country is today the only country that maintains both diplomatic relationship with China and its rival Taiwan which in diplomatic language is termed the “Two China Policy”.

One of the top officials in the Chinese embassy in Nigeria told me that not even in the United States of America which has military base that supports Taiwan, is the two China policy practiced.

Asked about the particular ministry that authorized the presence of Taiwanese trade mission in Nigeria, the Chinese diplomat said the Nigerian Foreign Ministry denied knowledge of how Taiwan secured accreditation to set up trade mission in Nigeria.

Is it possible then that a fraudster embedded in Nigeria’s foreign ministry indeed approved the presence of Taiwan in Nigeria since a subsisting memorandum of understanding frowns against that?

Is it possible too that the Nigerian Trade and Industry ministry officials may have entered an under -the -table deal with the Taiwanese necessitating the setting up of a Taiwanese trade mission in Nigeria?

These questions are important because since Chinese engineers are deeply involved in the reconstruction of our moribund railway infrastructures, it may be instructive that the Chinese government is not nursing concealed angst against the Nigerian government over this diplomatic faux pas.

This animosity and indeed tangled web of diplimatic illogicality must be worked out to avoid any unintended consequences.

The Chinese Ambassador was brutally frank when he confirmed that his government feels disappointed that a good ally like Nigeria is operating this type of distorted diplomatic practice of maintaining friendship with an entity that China considers a rebel and that indeed Taiwan is seen as part of the larger China.

The current government is known to have kicked off by paying a high profile visit to China and the Chinese political establishment through the powerful Chinese President Xi Jinping reciprocated this visit.

President Buhari is known to have also gone cap-in-hand to ask China for the much needed foreign exchange by way of loans to enable his administration fix the broken down infrastructures in most parts of Nigeria.

How can a country like Nigeria on one hand be begging China to come to Nigeria and help us but at the same time harboring a dangerous neighbor of China?

Discerning observers can even decode from the text of President Buhari’s speech that his administration hopes so much on what funding assistance it can generate from China.

During that visit, both leaders looked each other’s straight to the face and spoke out their minds.

On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari called on Nigerian and Chinese business communities to work harder to reduce the trade imbalance between both countries which is currently favoring China.

The president, who spoke on Tuesday, April 12, at the opening of a Nigeria-China Business/Investment Forum in Beijing, asserted that trade and economic relations between both countries must be mutually-beneficial and conducted with common respect and trust.

This was contained in a statement issued by Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on media and publicity.

“Although the Nigerian and Chinese business communities have recorded tremendous successes in bilateral trade, there is a large trade imbalance in favour of China as Chinese exports represent some 80 per cent of the total bilateral trade volumes. This gap needs to be reduced.

“Therefore, I would like to challenge the business communities in both countries to work together to reduce the trade imbalance. You must also imbibe the spirit of having a mutually beneficial relationship in your business transactions. You must not see Nigeria as a consumer market alone, but as an investment destination where goods can be manufactured and consumed locally”, Buhari said.

Could this trade imbalance be the undercurrent behind the dual diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and China on one hand and Nigeria versus Taiwan on the other? Is it a way of passing a strong message that Chinese should stop dumping cheap products into Nigerian markets but open up her markets to welcome products from Nigeria into the Chinese markets?

Back home, the Ambassador of China to Nigeria delivered a speech recently that goes to show that Chinese investments in Nigeria are substantial even as he disclosed that a five year investment plans have been rolled out by Chinese business community.

Perhaps, this is one way to assuage the bottled up angst of Nigeria to convince the political class to chase out Taiwan from Nigeria. Is this the magic wand? Only time can tell.

But in a statement issued by the Special Assistant to the Minister of Finance on Media, Mr. Festus Akanbi, Ambassador Pingjian made the disclosure early this week during his visit to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.

He asserted that Nigeria was a strong ally of China and recalled the role played by the country in China securing a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations in 1971.

The envoy further explained that the decision of the Chi­nese construction giant - Chi­na Gezhouba Group Corpo­ration (CGGC) - to open its North-West Africa headquar­ters in Abuja, demonstrates the important position which Chi­na attaches to Nigeria.

In her remarks, Adeosun expressed the determination of the current administration to deepen the good relation­ship between Nigeria and Chi­na, saying, “there are great op­portunities and an alignment of culture, ideas and aspirations.”

On November 20th 2016, the Chinese embassy hosted a cultural fiesta to mark the 45th China/Nigeria diplomatic relations.

My staff Miss Queen Ifunanya Onwughalu the publisher of www.queenifunanyablog.com who stood in for our organization came back to the office with beautiful stories of how different Chinese cultural troupes entertained the Nigerian audience.

But beneath the façade of a smooth relations, is the deep seated animosity over the decision of Nigeria to play ‘hide-and-seek’ by recognizing the 'two china policy'.

This is a short take on the much talked about one China policy : “As the Chinese Civil war ended in 1949, the Chinese Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), led by Chairman Mao Zedong, took control of mainland China".

Researchers further affirmed that The Republic of China, led by President Chiang Kai-shek, retreated the government of the Republic of China to Taiwan (See Wikipedia.org).

But how come that Nigeria signed a document to maintain the so-called ‘One China Policy’, but has now violated its own commitment by welcoming Taiwan’s trade mission?

Before someone shouts blue murder I must say as a human rights activist I have no opinion on this vexed matter but simply shocked by the inexplicable facts about this conundrum.

I for one will be happy if the public interest of Nigeria guides our foreign policy commitments.

The sad fact howevet is that there appears to be no available records known to the research community to show if the Nigerian National Assembly acceded to the treaty welcoming the establishment of the trade and/or diplomatic mission of Taiwan in Nigeria.

At least Senator Shehu Sani was as shocked as this writer was upon hearing these stories that reads like monumental betrayal from the foreign department of Nigeria against China.

Section 12(1) of the Constitution said: “No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.”

Who has put Nigeria into this tangled web of diplomatic mess with China?

Can someone please tell President Muhammadu Buhari about this huge contradiction!

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the intellectual head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."