Analysis of the New Era of Diplomacy: Liberia-U.S. and China- Liberia Friendships

By: Josephus Moses Gray | Email: graymoses@yahoo.com/ Mobile: (231) 88-033-0299 |

Author: J. Moses Gray

Generally attempting to reflect positively on the United States of America (USA) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) new competing interests in Liberia; this in-depth present a scholarly analysis of the two world’s economic powers. The spectacle of China in the global arena is quite significant and presents opportunities and challenges. But what are the American and Chinese governments’ new diplomatic maneuvering and competing interests behind the world’s two economic rival bloc’s new ties with Liberia especially African governments and states? An Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Liberia Graduate School, Professor Josephus Moses Gray offers insight into the new era of the two country new competing interests in Liberia.

Beijing rising adore for Africa comes in several ways, first, there are trade opportunities as Chinese growth requires products that Africa can provide, provoking an intense, competitive contest between Beijing and Washington on the African continent. The two global economic powers diplomatic missions on the African continent are very active and visible in all.

The United States is Liberia traditional partner while China is Liberia’s strategic partner, yet, the perception and misperception of Liberians, foreign capitalists and political bureaucrats towards China and USA present in Liberia. Beijing’s soft” policies of non-interference, one-China policy and no political attached strings‘ have resonated so strongly among African governments which have become so weary of those sanctimonious clichés about democracy, human rights, and good governance being proposed by Washington and its western partners. The U.S. attaches clearly stated goals, stringent conditions, and strict criteria to its development programs.

Both U.S. and China’s relations with Africa should adhere to the principles of good governance which include sincerity, inclusiveness, respect for the rule of law, practical results, affinity, and good faith and uphold the values of friendship, justice and shared interests. Let us not forget that China and the U.S. on one hand and Africa on the other hand “have always belonged to a community of shared values and fruitful future” and “have always been good friends who stand together through thick and thin, good partners who share weal and woe, and good brothers who fully trust each other despite changes in the international landscape.

Those at the helm of power in the country need to acutely reflects on a parable which says “The ocean is vast because it admits all rivers” while another saying goes, “History, if not forgotten, can serve as a guide for the future,” and third parable goes: “Delicious soup is made by combining different ingredients”, therefore we should seize the historic opportunity presented in the new era of China-Liberia relationship on one hand and the U-S-Liberia ties on the other hand for the realization of the people-centered  pro-poor.

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 modernization, industrialization, 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 game, be farsighted and proactive and not place themselves in the position of a “push and start” or wait on president Weah before discharging their mandates to seek investment for Liberia’s economic growth since the President as one cannot be everywhere across the globe.

As China and the US show great interest in Liberia, 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 institutions in China and America for economic growth and human resource and infrastructure developments of post-war Liberia and the realization of the people-centered pro-poor agenda.

The United States’ long-standing dominance of diplomatic ties with several African countries influence is nowadays being challenged by the rising global south especially China. According to several publications, Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing sources of oil supplies, but new oil discoveries and production on the continent, especially the Gulf of Guinea, made the continent more attractive in the eyes of global competing powers.

This article presents analysis of the advantage and disadvantage of China and USA rising interests in Africa and further discusses strategic importance China and U.S. attached to their 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 two countries are rendering rebuilding of post-war Liberia. As a reflection, one might want to know what are the diplomatic methodologies that President George Weah’s administration can put into place to balance international relations with the two opposing world blocs- China and America? While at the same time to keep Weah’s regime on a positive standing with both countries without being considered as a darling child of the other or play second fiddle to one of the rival powers.

The United States is Liberia traditional partner while China is Liberia’s strategic partner, both maintained active diplomatic missions in Liberia, yet the perception of Liberians, foreign capitalists and political bureaucrats towards China and USA present a hysterical and erroneous contradiction. 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 which have become so weary of those sanctimonious clichés about democracy, human rights, and good governance being proposed by America.

For others, political pundits, the competition between China and the United States for influence on the continent will go a long way. 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 to its development programs. China and Africa have since then become all-weather friends that understand, support and help each other. China has a major diplomatic presence in Africa. Even though it’s still arguably, In fact, according to research, Beijing is more widely represented in Africa with missions on the ground that in the United States. Beijing, which has diplomatic relations with Fifty-four of the continent’s fifty-five countries, maintains embassies and diplomatic missions in 48 of African states.

While the United States operates over forty diplomatic missions across Africa, below the embassy and diplomatic missions China operates around Africa. China maintains offices of a commercial counselor in 40 of those countries and seven consulates general in five of them. According to finding, the Chinese investment in Africa overtaking Britain‘s and France‘s, and stood only behind that of the United States of America.

The African continent has now become a vital arena of strategic and geopolitical competition for not only the United States and China but also the global south and east including India, Russia, Great Britain, France and Japan as well as other new emerging powers. The main reason for this level of new partnership with Africa states is that the continent is the final frontier as far as the world’s supplies of oil and energy are concerned with global competition for both oil and natural gas becoming just as intense.

The increasing presence of China in Africa has drawn a lot of controversy and strong criticism among some Western countries, which perceive Chinese foreign policy for Africa as a growing threat to their own interests. It is increasingly evident that Chinese economic involvement in several African countries has forced the traditional African partners, particularly Europe and the U.S., to reassess its foreign aid and strategic political cooperation with the continent.

The Chinese government’s “soft power” global influence attained through diplomatic, economic, cultural, and other non-coercive means has grown along with its international standing. While in other parts of Africa, Chinese companies are muscling their way into countries by “under-cutting” western competition including the USA through its attractive “gifts” of development aid and “non-interference”.

On a general level, the growing profile of China in Africa reached a significant milestone in this year when 40 African Presidents and Heads of Governments were being hosted by the Chinese President Zi Jimping to FOCAC Meeting in Beijing during which the Chinese President earmarked 60 billion for Africa with bulk of the amount towards loan and development programs and China investment on the continent.

However,  taking into account of China’s growing influence on the continent, in recent years the U.S. has also intensified its interest in Africa in order to ensure access to under-cutting Beijing gain on the continent. The Chinese government has captured the attention of many African countries including Liberia due primarily to Beijing’s approaches towards socioeconomic and structure development, and the ways in which the Chinese government practices win-win cooperation and is foreign aid’s policy.

Beijing’s “win-win” diplomatic style has featured greater accommodations with several African countries including Liberia. Chinese government growing popularity in Liberia is due to the soft power approach in the region and the speed of which it is responding to the country’s development needs and requests without too many severe conditions.

However, there are mixed perceptions among state actors, political pundits, bureaucrats, and western capitalists and journalists over the Beijing and the USA rising interests and foreign aid assistance toward African’s governments and sovereign states on the continent. Both Beijing and Washington’s aid assistance on the African continent have been growing rapidly, but which of the two, China and U.S. that outdoes the other vis-à-vis foreign aid assistance and investment in Africa especially the Republic of Liberia? In order to address the answer, an extensive assessment was initiated to obtain the logical details consistent with logical reasoning in order to establish the major ground for any conclusion.

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. For instance, during the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, China was the first to respond with medical aid and cash while the United States followed with the presence of its military support and Nine Billion Dollars to combat the Ebola virus. During the heat of the Liberian civil war in 2002, Washington was able to dispatch a military force in the country, and annually contributes about 400 million dollars towards its support to UNMIL presence in the country including other foreign aid assistance in the areas of political stability, education and health, energy, restructuring of the army and infrastructure development.

As the United States continues to debate the merits of aid to Liberia on the basis of good governance, China continues to fill a major gap in several areas of interventions without many conditions besides the one-China policy. While it is too early to predict precisely whether Chinese long-term rendezvous in Liberia will produce a positive influence, the impact of China in the country is highly visible in several developmental areas including roads rehabilitation, constructions of bridges, hospitals, schools, sports stadium, agriculture facilities, and investments projects. All of these projects create opportunities for the current administration to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the people although minty percent was the making of the former regime.

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 two countries over and over have demonstrated their frequent political exchanges. In March 2012, ex-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sent a congratulatory letter to Xi Jinping on his election as Chinese President. Notable progress was made in business ties as well as people-to-people, cultural and military exchanges between the two countries while in September this year His Excellency President George Weah had a fruitful discussion with the Chinese leadership…resulting to a US$54 Million development assistance for poverty-stricken nation Liberia.

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 Liberian government especially in the time of urgent need and long term solution the country’s numerous infrastructural needs.

But let not forget that the United States of America has played and continues a pivotal role in Liberia’s body politics and political leadership. Besides, the U.S. has been very supportive of Liberia both at the UN level and others international system as well as the physical intervention of former U.S. President George W. Bush to demand the departure of an ex-Liberian president, Charles Taylor.

Although the U.S. might not gain such anticipated favoritism among Liberian poverty-stricken population due squarely to it “hard policy” for respect for constitutionalism and good governance as a blueprint for foreign aid assistance, the U.S. has long diplomatic ties with Liberia and second, after Great Britain, to recognize Liberia independence.  Currently, Washington is also supporting lots of tangible and visible projects across Liberia including the security sector, education,  health, the Justice system, academic institutions rehabilitation, and support for the construction of bridges and rehabilitation of roads, rule of law, governance programs and media development including budgetary support.

But nowadays in Liberia, the public perceptions and attitudes toward China are generally favorable compared to the U.S; this depends to whom you speak with; in the views of many Liberians, China is not only a credible and willing international partner but also a strategic option for the country’s development. On the other hand, the Liberian market is relatively small in comparison to many African markets. Ordinary Liberians feel that Chinese-made commodities are not durable.  There have been enthusiasms among Liberians for goods made in the United States compared to that made in China. Liberian consumers, workers and small businesses are worried about the economy.  The perceptions of Liberians toward Chinese made products are fewer enthusiasms.

For example, Chinese companies have been engaged in the implementation of several  visible bilateral projects including the Ministerial Complex in Congo town, construction of public buildings, health delivery and educational facilities across the country, telecommunications sector and rehabilitation of major and fender roads while   Sixty Million United States Dollars Ministerial Complex and the New Terminal at RIA are expected to be completed soon.

Besides, China also undertook  several other millions dollars’ worth of projects in Liberia including the “Chinese Building” University of Liberia Fendall Campuses, the Jackson Doe’s Medical Hospital in Tapita in Nimba County, the installation of Traffic lights in Monrovia and its environs even though almost they are now  dysfunctional,  the rehabilitation of the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex, the Extension of MVTC, rehabilitations and refurbishing of roads and bridges, peacekeeping mission, awarding of fellowships and scholarships to Liberian professionals and students to enhance their expertise and skills, support to public and private sectors.

The Chinese win-win diplomacy and soft power in Liberia have given the Beijing leverage in the country. Today, some of the Liberian political elites have concluded that China is not only a credible and willing international partner but also a strategic option for growth in Liberia. History has shown that whenever a rising power, like China, creates fear among its neighbors and other great powers, such as America, that can be a cause of conflict in direct reference to  Newton’s third law which states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The statement means that in every diplomatic interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.

In the words of He Jun, a Beijing-based energy consultant: China does not have a competitive edge over its Western counterparts in an open market. But in a closed market like Africa’s, Chinese companies are able to gain from government influence.”‘ Western oil companies, not to mention industry based in other sectors, have been able to build upon generations of engagement dating back to the colonial period to secure their investments in Africa. The Chinese economic interests goes beyond Liberia, Angola, and Sudan to Africa’s major rich richer states such as Nigeria and Angola, thereby focusing on establishing stronger trading and economic ties with petroleum producing states by following a policy of mercantilism, while oil companies, which are under strict government control, seek to sign equity deals with oil companies and obtain a stake in the local oil industry.

In Nigeria, Sao Tome, South Sudan, Liberia, Principe, Angola and several African states along the west coast of Africa are the main hotspots for Chinese oil interest. Nigeria is second the biggest exporter of oil in the region, while Angola first after taking over Nigeria. For Angola, the state’s rejection of Western aid conditionality paved the way for the acceptance of Chinese aid, and the takeover of an oil block hither-to allocated owned Total (upon its expiration) to a Chinese oil company. China’s top five African trading partners (Capital Week) are Angola, South Africa, Sudan, Nigeria, and Egypt. China has also pursued exploration and production deals in smaller, lower-visibility countries, like Gabon.

In 1949, the birth of new China opened up a new chapter in Sion-African relations. Since 1950s and 1960s, as more and more African countries won independence and established diplomatic relations with China, the Sion-African relationship was ushered into a new era of all-round development that is having great impacts on the lives of millions on both fronts; the presence of China in Africa’s development cannot be questioned.

China’s robust economic growth in the past 40 years, which has lifted 600 million people out of extreme poverty, offers lessons for other regions, especially Liberia and African states. China has been consistently supporting African regional and sub-regional organizations like OAU, AU, SADC and ECOWAS, in efforts to safeguard regional peace and security but the various competing interests along African governments and institutions make it difficult for development on the continent while rampant corruption and frequent changed of leadership also undermine Africa’s development.

Sino-African trade and economic cooperation have been advancing smoothly. For long, China has provided within its capacity sincere assistance to the economic development of African countries, Liberia is a case study where China’s infrastructures are visible.  China has provided aid to hundreds of projects in Africa which involved agriculture, road, infrastructure, health, education, animal husbandry, fishery, textile, energy, water conservancy, power generation, and other sectors. China’s vastly increased involvement in Africa over the past decade is one of the most significant recent developments in the region.

China’s Africa interest is part of a recently more active international strategy based on multi-polarity and non-intervention. Increased aid, debt cancellation, and a boom in Chinese-African trade, with a strategic Chinese focus on oil, have proven mutually advantageous for China and African state elites.

By offering aid without preconditions, China has presented an attractive alternative to conditional Western aid, and gained valuable diplomatic support to defend its international interests.  China has educational relationships with 50 African countries and keeps increasing her assistance on training and education to African countries. In 2005, China also hosted the Sino-African Education Minister Forum. In 2007, there are around 5,900 students from Africa studying in China, with most of them receiving scholarships provided by the Chinese government.

     About the Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray is an Associate Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Studies Program with specialty in International Relations, Foreign Policy Studies and Development Communications.  He is a native-born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, journalist, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials including a doctorate in International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies from Paris, France. He has authored two books, published Two Graduate Theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: “Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa”. He has written extensively and published over 65 articles on a variety of contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email: graymoses@yahoo.com or reach on mobile (231)880330299

About Cholo Brooks 14625 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.