Analysis of Liberia-China’s Bilateral Relations and its Impact on National Development

By: Prof. Josephus Moses Gray, PhD |

Prof. J. Moses Gray

The phenomena of the People’s Republic of China in the global arena are quite significant and present opportunities and challenges for post-war countries in Africa including Liberia. But what is the ultimate push behind Beijing new diplomatic ties with African states and governments? And what is the impact of Beijing aid in Africa’s poorest states?  It has been observed that the new level of Beijing influence has ignited political competition between China and the United States on the African continent; China views development and foreign aid as practical policy instruments to promote political friendship and economic cooperation, while the U.S. attaches clearly stated goals, stringent conditions, and strict criteria for its development programs. An Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Liberia Graduate School, Prof. Dr. Josephus Moses Gray, offers a deep a qualitative analysis of China’s Impact on Liberia’s socio-economic and infrastructural development.

Unlike the Western donors who tend to impose Western values like democratic ideas and debate the merits and demerit of foreign aid to poverty-stricken nations’ mainly African states and governments, China continues to fill a major gap in several areas of interventions. China invests and provide aid without much preconditions and interference in their internal affairs, therefore, it is not unimaginable that China is regarded by Africa as a more cooperative and valuable partner to the West. Besides providing loans, invests in infrastructure development, belt and road, and many high-visibility projects across the African continent. Studies have shown that physical infrastructure constructions have been long neglected if not avoided by Western donors.

As a result, the influence of China in these poverty-stricken states is highly welcomed. For African scholars, China has accomplished what took developed countries hundreds of years to accomplish and become an upper-middle-income country from a low-income one, the country has overcome the great divergence of development among different nations formed after the first industrial revolution and made a miraculous economic catch-up from behind.   The Chinese government new diplomatic approaches and ties with African states and governments present a unique opportunity to aid socio-economic development in across the continent’s five regions of 54 states including Liberia. Studies have shown that Beijing relations with African states bordered on south-south cooperation especially in the areas of infrastructural development, socio-economic growth, and national interests.

This article provides a vivid picture of Liberia and China’s bilateral relations, detailing the two countries long standing relationship and cooperation, since 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. In recent time the U.S. and China have been engaged into a trade war; the current situation which is gradually having an adverse effect on global trade. It has also been perceived that nowadays power politics is mainly being driven by realism, although there is always conflict with liberalism which sees power from a contrary view. These two theories usually swayed world leaders in the areas of globalist and nationalist, depend on the prevailing situation that involves state’s national interest. But, this work considers mostly in structural realism which suggests that countries are formed a structure by their interactions and then being strongly affected by the structure their interactions have formed.

Going further, this work presents an analysis of the advantage of China’s rising interest in Liberia and further discusses strategic importance China attached to its relations with Liberia on one hand, and African states and governments on the general level; it also gives other details of the numerous supports the country is rendering in the rebuilding of post-war Liberia’s economy and social institutions including human capacity development. 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.

Many experts argue that China’s soft power policies of non-interference, one-China policy and no political attached strings‘ have resonated so strongly among African countries including Liberia and as compared to severe conditions being proposed by America for its foreign aid.     China’s relationship with Liberia is a strong example of how China is using soft power to successfully and deftly broaden its influence in Africa. In the views of Liberians, China is not only a credible and willing international partner but also a strategic option for the country’s development. In the face of Liberia-China’s remarkable ties, President Weah’s administration needs to move faster to take advantage of exceptional bonds of friendship with China to achieve its pro-poor agenda.

The Weah’s regime can use its unique friendship with China to seek more assistance to engage in other several developmental projects especially in the areas of agriculture and social-economic development.  The 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 friendly relations and cooperation between China and Liberia enjoyed the sound and all-around growth evident by Beijing’s development pack in the country.

The Chinese government’s new diplomatic ties with African states and governments present a unique opportunity for Liberia-China new chapter of relations that bordered on south-south cooperation especially in the areas of national Interests, socio-economic growth, and infrastructure development. The Chinese government has captured the attention of many countries due primarily to Beijing’s reasonable approaches towards development, and the ways in which the government practices “win-win“ diplomacy This style 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 focus 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 have 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 Chinese government has captured the attention of many African governments and states with Liberia being no exception due primarily to Beijing’s reasonable approaches towards infrastructural development and foreign aid assistance policy in which the Chinese government practices win-win diplomacy. Beijing’s “win-win” diplomatic style has featured greater accommodations with several African countries, but what is the new chapter of friendship subsisting between the two countries-Liberia and China.

China’s 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 contemporary China’s active rendezvous in Africa dates to the 1950s, while both countries 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 a 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. These areas include road rehabilitation, constructions of bridges, hospitals, schools, sports stadium, agriculture facilities, and investment projects.

The friendly relations and cooperation between China and Liberia enjoy the ed 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. China-Liberia cooperation development is blessed with shared needs, advantages, and opportunities, which make Liberia an important foothold. China-Liberia admired relationship makes it possible for bilateral cooperation to expand in scope and depth, and for mutual interests and win-win cooperation to grow.

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.

Nowadays, China remains a shining and deeply admired posture in the realm of mutual respect for others to be master of their own destiny and captain of their own future.  In 2014 during the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, China did not walk away and instead made the leading efforts and contribution to deliverr Ebola Virus Disease emergency support Liberia. China was the first to respond with medical aid and cash. China was the first to respond to former President Sirleaf’s call and sent 4 batches of aid, including emergency materials, equipment, and food by nine chartered airplanes. China helped build a State-of-the-art ETU, receiving 177 patients, including 10 Ebola patients. More than 400 Chinese medical personnel came to Liberia, fighting against Ebola side by side with the Liberian people. Their commitment truly reflected that China is a good friend of Liberia and Africa.

In July 2011, the project of Bang Iron Mines in Liberia undertaken by Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) Corporation was put into operation. In September 2011 China, for the first time, sent a 140-strong riot squad to Liberia for the UN peacekeeping operation.  Other projects include the renovation of the SKD Stadium, the construction Ministerial Complex, annexes to the Capitol Hill building, the New Terminal at RIA. “Chinese Building” University of Liberia Fendall Campuses, the Jackson Doe’s Medical Hospital in Tapita in Nimba County, the rehabilitations of the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex, the Extension of MVTC, rehabilitations and refurbishing of roads and bridges, peacekeeping mission, awarding fellowships to public and private sectors, and support to the national army and security apparatus.

Some other projects related to infrastructure, human resources and manufacture are being undertaken to help Liberia achieve economic independence and self-reliant sustainable development with China’s development for win-win cooperation and common development.  On the front of people-to-people exchanges, the two countries have maintained close ties on public health, medical care, education, and human resource training. Intensive cultural exchange and people-to-people bonds have brought the people of the two countries closer.

The 42 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 the 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 counterparts, President Xi Jinping.    President George Manneh Weah spoken positively about 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 42 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 the 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.

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.

The new chapter of friendship subsisting between the two countries should move forward against all odds, build on open and inclusive friendship with a mutual understanding based on political and economic benefits, by fostering partnerships grounded on competing for national interest through non-confrontation diplomatic engagement. 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. Closer strategic alignment between China and Liberia and in areas of main focus such as economic cooperation will produce win-win cooperation for both nations.

Although unemployment, poverty and pitiable education are not only unique to Liberia since these perils vary from one country to another; these perils stand as the major problems plaguing the international economy on the African continent. They are still a menace in the world particularly countries suited in the under-developed regions of Africa. While these global threats which have a negative impact on Liberia’s growth are not the direct creation of the President Weah administration but let it be cleared that government is continuity, until these national melanomas are properly handled, the government will always be answerable to the people.  The President’s pro-poor doctrine which is built on five pillars-agriculture, job creation, infrastructure development, improved education, and health delivery systems and paved roads across the country should strongly consider other values and support reform at all levels of the public sectors.

Therefore Liberian must seize the historic opportunity presented in the new era of China-Liberia relationship for the realization of the nation’s socio-economic development.  The impact of China in the country is highly visible in several areas while China’s remarkable 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 a “human phenomenon” in the contemporary world.

The Chinese government has succeeded to remove people from their shabby thatched or wooden houses to new apartments. China has made great leaps in reducing poverty and reaching the benchmarks laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, according to the United Nations Development Program. The Weah’s administration can gain lots from the China-Liberia new diplomatic ties if attention is given the Chines development model if the right policies by the right people at the right time and the right place are considered,

. The Chinese Nation Bureau(2018) statistics have shown that China’s industrial output expanded 6.8 percent in May 2018 while its data also showed that country’s GDP rose to 80 trillion yuan (about 12.3 trillion US dollars), over 13 million jobs were created, more than 700 million of which 10 million rural residents were lifted out of poverty.

The situation confronting the nation can be overcome by the Weah’s administration if the government replicates the Chinese successful development model which has lifted out of poverty about 600 million Chinese and transformed the Chinese state into the world economic power. But one may ask: Can the Weah’s erudite economic team take advantage of the new chapter of Liberia-China’s relations to boost the nation’s under-privileged livelihood. The path towards economic growth and industrialization in the country need a painful decision that might become unpopular but can achieve the needed result to remove thousands of Liberians from poverty and lead to economic growth.

Although Liberia is not a member of the BRICS bloc but the Weah’s brainy economic team can use the government exiting diplomatic ties with Chinese central leadership to access BRICS US$15 Billion loan projects earmarked for developing countries to pursue their self-sustainable projects that are geared towards the improved living standard of its population. The facility the President pro-poor agenda, government economic team also take advantage of new exceptional bonds of friendship with China to access BRICS contingency reserve of US$100 Billion and additional US$110 Million set apart for development in Africa; currently Chinese has US$14 Billion investment in Africa, with the Southern African states being the recipients.

More inspiringly, Liberia needs to reflect on China’s 40 years of opening up remarkable achievements that attracted the attention of the world. The economic team of the Liberian government need to should unique ties subsisting between both states to knock on the doors of Chinese leadership reassured President Weah’s truthful assurance to the south-south cooperation, and reaffirm the government’s principles and shared values for the sole purpose of the obtainment of sustainable development in terms of an improved economic, industrialization and infrastructure development and African integration.

In July 2018, the Deputy Administrator of the State Administration of China Foreign Exchange, Mr. Lu Lei explained that China was has commissioned US$14 Billion investments in Africa. According to him, the China-Africa development funded approvedUS$330 million for people-centered projects in Africa for the continent’s six regions, but said competing for interests by African governments and states bureaucrats and the lack of development blueprints were preventing countries from accessing the funds. He also indicated that an extra US$110 Million for the fiscal year has been approved to help develop Africa.

The funds, he said can be accessed by African governments through the submission of concrete and practical projects that are in conformity with principles and shared values shielded by mutual understanding. The Bank of China has also put into place US$100 Billion for investment in Africa geared towards achieving win-win cooperation between China and African countries.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China (2019) reported that Beijing maintains diplomatic relationships with 54 of the 55 African states and Africa is the largest overseas destination for Chinese. But said the lack of well-defined and effective policy formulations by African governments and leadership are pulling the continent backward.

Interestingly, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry’s official who delivered the formal opening of China-Africa Think Tank International Forum in July 2018 used the forum to frown at widespread corruption, extortion and illegal payment demanded by African custom officers, immigration personnel and state actors before granting access to Chinese investors in their countries. The ugly practices which he alleged perpetually exist without a decisive punishment, are killing Africa’s growth and undermine development pacts on the continent.

In many African countries, corruption is a major challenge and serves as a barrier to improve the livelihood of the population, and enhance their socio-economic, health, political and security needs, as well as lesser the quality of living standards in the country. The systematic practices of corruption decrease the tax revenue generations, increases poverty, destroyed and broken down homes and families, leaves to separations of couples, increases the suffering, leads to more vulnerability, blamed for high prostitution, and slow pace of public infrastructure on the African continent.

In Africa, corruption is institutionalized and accepted and often do not view as a criminal act while a sense of entitlement is at the core of corruption. Both public and private individuals on the continent officials regularly engage in corrupt practices due to a culture of impunity even though there are numerous laws on the books against corruption practices. Over the past decades, China’s GDP has averaged a yearly growth rate of about 9.5 percent. 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.

Our leaders, especially those at the corridor of power in the country, should be fully aware of the international balance of power and use the south-south cooperation to the advantage of the Liberian people and should pinpoint Liberia’s priorities areas of interests of industrialization and common needs that stand to positively impact the livelihood of poverty-stricken Liberians.    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 diplomatic maneuvering and not serve as a spectator, while their counterparts make maximum use of their political engagement. They must be farsighted and proactive and not place themselves in the position of a “push and start”.

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 should 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.

The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in his recent book titled: 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 import US$8 trillion worth of goods, attract US$600 billion in foreign investment, and made US$750 billion in outbound investment.

Nowadays, China remains a shining and deeply admired posture in the realm of mutual respect for others to be master of their own destiny and captain of their own future. Indeed, that’s praiseworthy. For instance, during the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, China was the first to respond with medical aid and cash. In July 2011, the project of Bang Iron Mines in Liberia undertaken by Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) Corporation was put into operation. In September 2011 China, for the first time, sent a 140-strong riot squad to Liberia for the UN peacekeeping operation.  China’s relationship with Liberia is a strong example of how China is using soft power to successfully and deftly broaden its influence in Africa. 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 to the country’s numerous infrastructural needs. In the views of Liberians, China is not only a credible and willing international partner but also a strategic option for the country’s development.

In his first State of the Nation Address, President Weah clearly stated the key priorities for his government including improve public sector transparency and efficiency, creating an environment for transparent and honest businesses, filling in infrastructure gaps, in particular, connecting the Southeast through the coastal road, and creating jobs for youth.

Let me reiterate, China’s involvement is said to serve hope for Africa including Liberia, as China provides an alternative political-economic framework for Africa while China in return stands to also benefit based on the doctrine of cooperation and win diplomacy. Today, dozens of scholars have viewed China’s recent involvement in Africa as that of a development partner. Their basis of argument is that China’s presence presents an opportunity for development and economic growth, by providing aid to poverty struck and marginalized countries like my country Liberia has helped to provide visible development assistance such as infrastructural, debt cancellation, scholarships, constructions of roads and bridges and provisions and support to health delivery and education systems.

 

China and Africa have shared a comprehensive consensus on major international issues, common interests and a willingness to deepen their cooperation. The rapid development of the Sino-Africa relationship reveals on-going transitions that facilitate the move towards a new strategic partnership. China also emphasizes the notion of “respect” for African countries, embodied in its policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries and in an approach to conflict resolution on the continent that is seen as much less confrontational as western interventions.

About the Arthur: Dr. Josephus Moses Gray, presently servess as an Associate Professor of International Relations of the University Of Liberia Graduate School Of International Studies. He earned his PhD with Magna Cum Laude from the CEDS University in Paris, located at 37 Quai de Grenelle, 75015, Paris. Dr. Gray hails from Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County, and Southeastern Liberia. He has written and published over 100 researched articles. Besides the professor status, he is the president of the African Council of Think Tanks, International Studies and Applied Research, headquarters in Monrovia. The African Research Council has a staff of best academics, scholars, professors, journalists, authors, economists, financial experts, lawyers, policy-makers, managers and researchers in the fields of applied research, international relations and foreign policy studies, international development and studies, macroeconomic policy, women and girl-child based issues, climate change and environmental policy, development strategy, journalism, trade and finance, politics, regional economic policy, industrial economy and industrial policy, rural economy, technical economy, diplomacy, foreign economic relations and decision-making in international politics. he can be reached via email: graymoses@yahoo.com or (+23)  880330299

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About Cholo Brooks 13364 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.