A Qualitative Analysis of the Effect of Liberia-China’s Diplomatic Relationship and Cooperation

By: Josephus Moses Gray

Prof. J. Moses Gray

The best way to evaluate whether a country’s political system is democratic and efficient is to observe whether the succession of its leading body is orderly and in conformity with the law and political respectability, decision-making system, how officials are appointed, dismissed, replaced and how power can be kept under effective restraint and supervision. Another means to conclude is how effective is the country’s diplomacy which is most importantly used because it is a basic means by which a nation seeks to secure the goals of its national interest. Since foreign policy always travels on the shoulders of diplomacy and gets operationalized in other states. Without diplomacy which maintains harmony between or among nations-states, nations would be in constant crisis or war.  Diplomacy is most importantly used because it is a basic means by which a nation seeks to secure the goals of its national interest; an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Liberia Graduate School, Josephus Moses Gray offers insight into understanding the ideas, dynamic and enthusiasm of Liberia-China’s years of amazing friendship and a win-win cooperation.

This article categorized all aspects of China and Liberia’s years of outstanding friendship and cooperation, and evaluates the successes and keeps focus in areas of economic, foreign aid assistance, infrastructure development, and China-Liberia win-win cooperation. It presents several l possible diplomatic tip-offs which if considered, will play a vital role in strengthening the nation’s economy. It goes further to discuss the advantage of China’s practical presence and impact on Liberia’s infrastructure and man-power development, and economic growth. Going further, this article is intended to understand the dynamics of Liberia and China’s years of friendship defiant all ostriches and challenges that stood in the way of this productive friendship. The article goes further to dip into the diplomatic plays and concludes with a critical assessment of the role played by China in the ongoing development processes in the country.

It also discusses international relations, diplomacy, and foreign policy and compared and reviewed the strategic role of the nation’s foreign policy on national development, and how it helped to shift the country’s global role in the international sphere. The work in detailed discusses diplomacy which is most importantly used because it is a basic means by which a nation seeks to secure the goals of its national interest. Without diplomacy which maintains harmony between or among nation-states, nations would be in constant crisis or war.  Diplomacy is most importantly used because it is a basic means by which a nation seeks to secure the goals of its national interest (Amacker, 2009).

The work discusses the role of the researcher in qualitative research, also describes the various stages of the research and presents the background of the study, problem statement, research focus, objectives, rationale, hypothesis and significant, and traces the history of Liberia, U.S. and China’s triangular relations and the engagement of the Washington and Beijing in Africa and their foreign aid support towards African governments and states.  The people of Chinese and Liberia have all along rendered each other solidarity and support and shared weal and woe in their struggles against imperialism and for national independence and liberation.

July 26th each year marks the independence of the Liberian-state, with Liberia currently stands at 171-year old, while October 1st every year marks the Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country turns 70 this year. The founding father of Liberian-nation is Joseph Jenkins Roberts, its first president, while Chairman Mao Zedong if the founding father of China. Both countries have experienced to imperialism and colonialism; Liberia is 101 years old then China but China has made a remarkable transformations and growth surpassed other industrial nations and become the world’s second economic power.

China is a state with a land of over 9.6 million square kilometers and a population of 56 ethnic groups of 1.3 billion people, while Liberia is a state with 42 thousand square miles, 16 ethnic groups of 4 million populations (Yang Fuchang, 2002. China has an aging population of 64.3%, while Liberia has the youngest population of 54%. In both states, more people reside in the rule parts than urban areas.

Liberia and China are both developing countries facing common challenges of development and sharing broad common interests. The official language of Liberia is English, followed by Kpelleh, Bassa, and Kru while the national language of China is Putonghua which is used by the largest number of Chinese. China has 668 cities at different levels of administrative division, while Liberia has 150 cities. The Kpelleh ethnic group is the single largest tribe in Liberia while the Han ethnic group makes up 91.59% of the national population of China  ( Yang Fuchang, 2002.  The national motto of Liberia is “Love of Liberty and China is “Crossing the river by feeling the stones”; the political system of Liberia is Republican form of government while runs a Socialism; both governments are headed by presidents, assisted by Vice president and premier.

In the area of traditional diplomacy, Beijing maintains a diplomatic relationship with 54 of the 55 African states, and that Africa is the largest overseas destination for Chinese investors and visitors. While Liberia maintains twenty-seven embassies across the world with none located in South and Central Americas, Australia and the Oceania and Caribbean regions.

Further figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that China’s GDP has averaged a yearly growth rate of about 9.5 percent amounting to $14.140 trillion (CNBC, 2019) and Liberia GDP figure in 2018 was $3,249 million, Liberia is number 164 in the ranking of GDP of the 196 countries (Country economy, 2018). For World Bank(2019) report,  Liberia’s current account deficit narrowed to 21.1% in 2019 from 23.4% of GDP in 2018 which the World Bank attributed largely to a decline in imports following the complete UNMIL drawdown. The overall fiscal deficit of the central government widened from 4.1% of GDP in FY2017 to 4.8% of GDP in FY2018 and further to an estimated 6.2% in FY2019. Liberia is a low-income country that relies heavily on foreign assistance and remittances from the Diaspora. It is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture. Its principal exports are iron ore, rubber, diamonds, and gold. Palm oil and cocoa are emerging as new export products.

While in terms of foreign trade, China has registered a yearly growth of over 14.5 percent in U.S. dollars. In the last 10 years, with China’s strength in the workforce, capital, market and technology, the nation, on average, contributed 30 percent of the global economic growth yearly, sharing the benefits of China’s development with the world.   Both Liberia and China cannot be judged without reference to their past histories, China has been keeping to the long-established track of historical heritage and cherishing the Chinese path to effect development especially the country’s economic, social, cultural and political conditions. For Liberia which was once classed as the beacon of hope and pioneer of African democracy has breaking with history, the nation’s historical heritage and cultural values and norms have been demolished. The Liberian-nation has blindly copied the political system of the West without trying to understand that properly, which difficult to work in the state.

Foreign policy always travels on the shoulders of diplomacy and gets operationalized in other states and most importantly used because it is a basic means by which a nation seeks to secure the goals of its national interest. Therefore, in the face of China’s remarkable achievement, how can Liberia take advantage of exceptional bonds of friendship with China to access BRICS contingency reserve of US$100 Billion offers member states and US$110 Million set apart for development in Africa for the current year of 2018 by the Bank of China and the addition Chinese US$14 Billion investment in Africa.

In the face of Liberia-China’s remarkable ties, President Weah’s administration needs to accelerate and to take advantage of exceptional bonds of friendship with China which aimed at assisting with the nation’s economic and to achieve its pro-poor agenda. The Weah’s regime can use its friendship with China to seek more assistance to engage in several developmental projects especially in the area s of agriculture and social-economic development; the president cannot be present everywhere, his able team especially hose charge with the responsible need to accelerate their efforts to attract investment.

It is vital to note that even though Liberia is not a member of the bloc but President Weah’s administration can use its friendship with China and other’s BRICS members like India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil to seek assistance in the form of a loan. BRICS Member states are (Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa). Through Liberia is not a member of BRICS, Liberia can get assistance from the bloc through its New Development Bank (NDB) offers  of US$100 Billion developing countries in its pursuit of self-sustainable development and the NDB African region office in Johannesburg has committed US$15 Billion for loan purposes.

Besides BRICS, the Chinese Government also tabled lots of financial opportunities for FOCAC member countries to seek loan or financial assistance.  These financial openings were actually explained by Mr. Lu Lei, Deputy Administrator of the State Administration of China Foreign Exchange, during the recent China-Africa Think Tank Forum held in Beijing. He told the forum of 350 scholars from China and Africa that trade and investment between China and African states need to be increased but said the process must be based on honesty, sincerity and clear policies conformity with the principles and shared values in pursuing core interests.

In his statistics, Mr. Lu Lei narrates that China is undertaking US$14 Billion investments in Africa while China Africa development has funded US$330 million projects in Africa in one of Africa’s six regions.  Additional US$110 Million for development in Africa for the current year of 2018 has been approved.  African countries need to access the development assistance through unique projects that are in conformity with principles and shared values shielded by mutual understanding.

According to Mr. Lu Lei, the Bank of China has over US$100 Billion investment in Africa which is geared towards achieving a win-win cooperation between China and African countries, while the Bank is also supporting projects in 47 of the 55 countries in Africa.Mr. Lu Lei records that African countries like Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, Uganda and Ethiopia among others are highly benefiting from the Bank’s projects. The Bank of China, he disclosed is supporting dozens of various types of tangible projects across Africa while it also involved in cooperation, financial development in Africa and human development. It helped to train over 5,000 Kenyans.

Besides providing loans and financial assistance to Liberia, China also invests in infrastructure development and many high-visibility projects, that the Liberian society generally in favor. Physical infrastructure constructions have been long neglected if not avoided by some of the western powers and western donors in Liberia. China invests and provides aid without much preconditions and interference in the internal affairs of Liberia. Therefore, it is not unimaginable that China is regarded by the Liberian-nation as a more cooperative and valuable partner to the West. The Chinese government has captured the attention of Liberians due primarily to Beijing’s reasonable approaches towards development, and the ways in which the government practices “win-win“ diplomacy This style, besides Liberia,  has featured greater accommodations with several countries.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China (2019), the main characteristics of Beijing’s foreign policy  basic objectives center on safeguarding national independence and state sovereignty, and creating an international environment favorable to its reform, opening and modernization efforts,  maintaining world peace,  friendly relations and cooperation,  good-neighborly and friendly relations,  enhanced unity and cooperation with developing countries , and promoting common development.

For Liberia, the guiding principles of  foreign policy has been the maintenance of national security and the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, the promotion of peace and harmony based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states ( MOFA, 2016). The Chinese growing economic presence in the country, centered on trade, foreign aid assistance, industrialization, social development and investments has resulted in win-win cooperation between the two states, governments and people, bounded by amazing ties and cooperation.

The impact of China in the country is highly visible in several areas while China’s remarkably transformation from a poor and backward nation into a modernized and prosperous one is proven to be an amazing achievement in human history of tackling poverty and providing a valuable experience for other under-developing states to track. The transformation of China is repeatedly graded as “human phenomenon” in the contemporary world.

Contemporary China’s active rendezvous in Africa dates to the 1950s, while both states-the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Liberia entered bilateral relations on February 17, 1977 during the leadership of former president William Richard Tolbert, Jr., a year after the death of Premier Zhou and Chairman Mao Zedong’s deaths;  with Hua Guofeng at the head of the top offices of the state, government, and party. Beijing has always viewed Liberia as a true friend and this friendship underpinned the two sovereign states amazing dealings since this unique bond manifested itself through economic assistance, even though China is still being classed by the West as developing country.

China’s win-win policy of core principles is welcomed by Liberia’s former leaderships and the current administration because it places socio-economic, development and equality at the forefront of diplomatic ties and cooperation. Recent trends confirmed that China-Liberia relations are moving ahead in a very positive way, based on a vision of the community of a shared future, mutual support and equality grounded on a common historical struggle against imperialism and national independence. A closer strategic alignment between China and Liberia and in areas of key focus such as economic cooperation will produce win-win cooperation for both nations.

The friendly relations and cooperation between China and Liberia enjoyed a sound and all-round growth in 2013. The two countries had frequent political exchanges. Through the cultivation of responsive ties between China and Liberia, through the two states shared colonial and imperialist sore past,   both China and Liberia since 1977 have cultivated friend and brotherly relations, although  the bond on one occasion ex-president Charles Taylor (sentence for 45 years for crimes gross human rights violations) switched ties to Taiwan (Republic of China). But the former regime of Charles Gyude Bryant once National Transitional Government of Liberia severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan (ROC) and reestablished relationship with mainland China (PRC).

The realities of the Chinese amazing transformation are visible on the Chinese soil, they are hardworking, they have the energies and demeanors towards jobs, and they accept challenges and believe in the Chinese spirit and characteristics. The People’s Republic of China’s transformation from a poor and backward nation into a modernized and prosperous one is proven to be an amazing achievement in human history of tackling poverty and providing a valuable experience for other nations.     China not only is an important driving force of global economic growth but also makes a significant contribution to maintaining world peace and stability as well as promoting interconnectivity between countries and regions.

China’s remarkable jump has been made from an impoverished society which only depended on sufficient food and clothing to a flourishing society in the world. The state now plays a better role in the international arena due to its improved socio-economic situation.  China to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and those profound changes have taken place over the past seven decades as China has become the second-largest economy.  China has successfully expanded beyond its border ushering a new era of industrialization, and record-breaking socio-economic development. The state is also credited for its successful strategic approach towards the establishment of diplomatic ties and cooperation with hundreds of sovereign states, governments, and people across the globe.

 

The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in his recent book title: The Governance of China, II, page 598 paragraph two disclosed that from 1950 to 2016, China provided foreign countries with over RMB400 billion in aid, and will continue to increase assistance. According to him, China has contributed on average over 30 percent of global growth each year and revealed that in the coming years, China is expected to importUS$8 trillion worth of goods, attract US$600 billion in foreign investment and made US$750 billion in outbound investment. With the swift rise of overall strength of developing countries and the increase of South-South cooperation, Forum on China-Africa cooperation (FOCAC) has momentously advanced into a new platform for China and African countries to strengthen multilateral discussions for win-win cooperation.

Considering the nation’s economic inertia, the right policy at the right time by the right people at the right place should be instituted and that those at the helm of states’ power be proactive by knocking on the doors of vibrant Chinese financial institutions like the Bank of China for economic growth and human resource and infrastructure developments. To achieve this goal, the right people with the requisite skills, experience, qualifications and education need to be accorded the task and place in the rightful position of national duty.  From the perspective of economic benefits, Liberia should take advantage of FOCAC to present its case for economic improvement, infrastructure and human resource development, and not to be spectators while other African countries diplomatically showcased their economic needs. Presently, Liberia’s GDP accounts as one of the less compared to over 40 African countries.

FOCAC was established in 2000 during the heat of the Liberian bloodiest war; since then FOCAC has served as an important engine in promoting China-Africa cooperation in all fields since then. The FOCAC summits in Beijing in 2006 and in Johannesburg in 2015 pushed China-Africa economic cooperation to new heights. In order to encourage African industrialization, China also established the China-Africa Fund for Industrial Cooperation, with a startup capital of $10 billion and increased capital of $5 billion each to the China-Africa Development Fund and the Special Loan for the Development of African SMEs.

The CDC-led government can also use the unique ties between the two countries to access the Bank of China US$100 Billion earmarked for investment in Africa which is geared towards achieving a win-win cooperation between China and African countries; Just as other African countries like Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, Uganda and Ethiopia among others are highly benefiting from the Bank’s projects. The Bank of China, he disclosed is supporting dozens of various types of tangible projects across Africa while it also involved in cooperation, financial development in Africa and human development. It helped to train over 5,000 Kenyans.

Liberian government officials need to learn more about China’s remarkable transformation and draw lessons from the Asian Tiger and Japanese miracle so that can be passed down from generation to generation. More efforts should be made to ensure grain production, optimize agricultural structure, and increase farmers’ loan scheme and income, win the battle against corruption and poverty to put Liberia on par with other African countries like Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Senegal in the areas of vitalization.

The new era of friendship subsisting between the two countries-Liberia and China should move forward against all odds, build on open and inclusive friendship through exchanges and mutual understanding by fostering partnerships based on dialogue, common interest and non-confrontation. At the peak of this level, our leaders need to be proactive-not reactive; they should not wait for their counterparts from Beijing and other great capitals or investors to identify Liberia’s needs of interests.

Our leaders, especially those at the corridor of power, should be fully aware of the international balance of power and win-win cooperation, and should pinpoint Liberia’s priorities areas of interests of modernizations, industrializations and economic growth; if President Weah’s pro-poor philosophy which literally means poverty reduction is to be achieved. Those at the helm of key positions of state powers and others assigned at the notion’s diplomatic missions abroad need to be ahead of the the game, be farsighted and proactive and not place themselves in the position of a“push and start”.

According to Anshan (2007), China’s engagement in Africa in the 1960s during the Cold war was seen as expansionist and aggressive by the West -a similar comparison to the Chinese current engagement. China’s relations with Africa from the mid-1950s to 1970s was purely ideological than anything else, since the 1990s, China’s engagement in Africa has shifted to being more economic than ideological. Currently, China current engagement with Liberia has been productive evident though the numerous visibility of tangible projects in the country. Over the 42 years of mutual friendship and brotherly relations, both capitals Monrovia and Beijing have since adjusted their selves from just being friends but strategic partners guarded the clear shift in the nature of win-win cooperation and policy of core principles.

According to MOFA (2014), China has had no negative impact on the political development of Liberia. If contrary, it could be argued to have strengthened it. This is so because the bilateral relations between the two sovereign states have drawn attention to the need for vibrant and vigorous political institutions and respect for each nation’s core principles. The bond of friendship marks a new milestone for the China-Liberia relations ushering in a new blueprint to realize opportunities for future mutual development and contribute to promoting bilateral cooperation between our two countries. China-Liberia relations have been developing on a fast track and significant. China is a major development partner of this country and has played a growing role in Liberia’s socio-economic development.

The People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Liberia established bilateral relations on February 17, 1977.  In 1989 Beijing broke diplomatic ties with Liberia after the Liberian Government signed Joint Communiqué with Taiwan authorities. But on August 10, 1993, China and Liberia resumed diplomatic ties. Again in September 1997, the diplomatic ties broke due to former president Taylor’s recognition of “Two Chinas”. While in October 2003, the two governments resumed diplomatic ties; with the Chinese Embassy in Liberia reopening in January 12004. Since then China remains strategic and true partner of Liberia.

The 43 years of relationship and cooperation have witnessed major visits exchanged by Liberian and Chinese leaders and other state actors including the June 1978 state visit of former President William R. Tolbert and in May 1982 ex-President Samuel Kanyon Doe paid a state visit to China.  While in October 2006, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid a  state visit to China, and on February 1, 2007, former President Hu Jintao paid a historic state visit to Liberia reciprocating, the first visit to Liberia by a head of state from China.

Accordingly, both leaders during their exchange of visits, the two chartered the direction for future development of bilateral relations and the two sides signed several agreements on bilateral economic and technical cooperation, cancellation of Liberia’s debts owed to China, provision of financial assistance to Liberia for its post-war reconstruction.   On November 3, 2015, President Xi Jinping held talks with ex- Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia at the Great Hall of the People. The two heads of state agreed to make joint efforts to build China-Liberia comprehensive cooperative partnership so as to better benefit the two peoples.

Also in August 2018, President Weah at the head of a high-powered delegation paid a state visit to China to participate in FOCAC and held bilateral talks with his Chinese counter-parts, President Xi Jinping.    President George Manneh Weah spoke positively of his trip to China and the benefit Liberia stands to accrue with specific reference to the US$54 million grant and other largesse soon to be revealed.  And the gains made in the area of re-strengthening its relations with China as well as its support for agriculture, road, health and technology under the government’s Pro-Poor Agenda.

The 43 years ties also witnessed the visitations from both countries of other senior officials.  In January 2006, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing attended the Inauguration of President Sirleaf as Special Envoy of President Hu Jintao and paid an official visit to Liberia.  In March, Deputy Commerce Minister Wei Jianguo visited Liberia.  In June, Ma Wenpu, Vice Minister of International Department of the Chinese Communist Party paid a visit to Liberia.

In November 1986, former Foreign Minister Bernard Blamo, while Chinese leaders including Vice Premier Tian Jiyun in December 1984 and Deputy Foreign Minister Tian Zengpei in August 1994 visited Liberia.  China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lu Guozeng visited Liberia in November 2003.  While in August 2004, former Foreign Minister Thomas Yaya Nimely led a delegation consisting of Commerce Minister, Agriculture Minister, Foreign Affairs Advisor to Chairman Bryant and other Liberian senior officials visited China.

At present, China-Liberia ties are stronger and positively moving ahead in a very positive way, based on a vision of the community of a shared future, mutual support and equality grounded on win-win cooperation and common historical struggle against imperialism and national independence. China gains at least short-term popularity by answering the request of the Liberia Government especially in the time of urgent need and long term solution the country’s numerous infrastructural needs.

Since the resumption of bilateral relations in October 2003, the Sino-Liberian ties have witnessed sound development with frequent exchanges of high-level visits. In March 2006, a delegation of five political parties namely the Unity Party, the Congress for Democratic Change, the Liberty Party, the National Patriotic Party and the Coalition for Transformation of Liberia visited China.  This qualitative article is authored and published by Josephus Moses Gray, Assistant professor of International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies, University of Liberia Graduate School. Email: graymoses@yahoo.com/Mobile: (+231)880330299.

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About Cholo Brooks 13508 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.