Analysis of the Impact of China-Liberia 42 Years of an Amazing Friendship and Cooperation

By: Josephus Moses Gray| | 

Chinese President Xi Jinping

There is an old Chinese saying: It is better to teach somebody how to fish than simply give him the fish. In order to help Liberia in the areas of socio-economic development, industrialization, innovation and technical advancement, global economic powers should principally teach the Liberian society how to fish than simply give the society the fishes and milks to prepare the society cope with future challenges.  But whilst other big powers continue to debate the merits of economic assistance and foreign aid to Liberia, other global economic power from the east continue to fill a major gap in several areas of interventions.

    “Delicious soup is made by combining different ingredients”, therefore Liberian must seize the historical 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 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.

This article-based on qualitative analysis is aimed to contribute to the multilayered discussion on China-Liberia bond of friendship and cooperation. Applying a hypothetical lens that examined the 42 years of relations and cooperation, this article focused in several main areas of economic, foreign aid assistance, infrastructure development, and Beijing practical presence and impact in Liberia. Going further, this article is intended to understand how the former Liberian and Chinese leaders and state actors have helped to facility and influence the growing relationship between both states, and 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.

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 an amazing ties and cooperation.


Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Liberian President George Weah at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 1, 2018. (Xinhua/Zhang Ling)

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 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 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).

To edify this article to another scholarly dimension since it is impossible to assess china-Liberia bond of friendship and cooperation without discussing the involvement of African states relations with China. Therefore, permit me to provide a little clear balance of China-African long standing exceptional relationship which centered on mutual ties and win-win cooperation.

The President of China, Xi Jinping stressed in his addressed to the 2018 FOCAC that China and Africa have always been a community of common destiny sharing weal and woe, and a community of shared interests featuring win-win cooperation. The Chinese leader reiterated that traditional friendship between China and Africa is deeply rooted in people’s hearts, and promoting solidarity and cooperation with African countries has always been the cornerstone of China’s foreign policy.

World Meters (2016) discloses that scientists believe that Africa was the birthplace of mankind and by 100,000 BC modern humans lived by hunting and gathering with stone tools. From Africa they spread to Europe while about 3,200 BC writing was invented in Northeast Africa, in Egypt. Africa’s current population stands at 1,221,269,843 as of Tuesday, September 6, 2016, based on the latest United Nations’ estimates while Africa’s population is equivalent to 16.14% of the total world population.

Africa ranks number 2 among regions of the world ordered by population and the population density in Africa is 41 per Km2 (106 people per mi2). The total land area is 29,661,703 Km2 and the 39.8 % of the population is urban (488,296,186 people in 2016), while Africa holds the world’s youthful population with the median age is 19 years.  Africa is very rich with natural resources such as fertile soil, enough rain and sunshine for cultivation, raw materials, oil, gold and many other major resources, but corruption and bad governances as well as  lack ways of exploiting Africa’s resources.

China is the largest developing country in the world and Africa is the continent with the largest number of developing countries. China and Africa are faced with both historical opportunities for greater development and unprecedented challenges that without doubts are turning into prospects for both countries and peoples. Despite the vast oceans that separate China and Africa, the friendship between China and Africa remained unquestionable, dated back to ancient times and transcended both time and space.

According to a Yang (2008), the beginning of the relations between China and Africa can be dated back to the voyages of Zheng He (1372-1433) in the Ming dynasty, while some scholars regarded the Bandung Conference of 1955 marked the real start of Africa-China relations. Professor Yang, in his publication: Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy reiterates that communication and indirect trade between China and Africa started as early as over 3000 years ago.

He disclosed that By the 6th century, China and Africa already had direct contacts via sea route. According to pages of history, in the 15th century, Zheng He, the well-known Chinese navigator of that time, led fleets to the east coast of Africa for four times, and visited places in Somalia and Kenya of today. Even now, the remnants of the crew of Chinese fleets can still be found in Kenya.

In 2002, the copy of a Chinese map entitled “Da Ming Hun Yi Tu”, which dates back to the year of 1389 and is identified as the earliest map indicating the outline of the whole African continent in the world, made a stir in South Africa, when it was displayed as part of the Parliamentary Millennium Project exhibition in Parliament of South Africa. It proves that the contact between Chinese and Africans predates the European “discovery” of the African continent by over 100 years and China was the first country that established contacts with Africa (Yang, 2008).

While in his 2018 instructive speech at the last China-Africa Think Tanks Forum held in Beijing, the author of this article, Professor Gray asserted that in modern and contemporary history, China and Africa shared similar experiences both having suffered from aggression, plunder and enslavement by colonialists.  The people of Chinese and Africa 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.

According to persistent publications which have been authenticated by researchers and authors, in 1949, the birth of new China opened up a new chapter in Sino-African relations. Since 1950s and 1960s, as more and more African countries won independence and  established diplomatic relations with China, the Sino-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 is visible on the continued march as evident by the hundreds of projects undertaking or completed, while new agreements have been consolidated for an effective implementation.

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.

In the 1960‟s, followed independence, the pan-African vision for developing the continent was envisioned to be possible through the instrumentality of the developmental state.   Development became the passion of African leaders and the expectation of the people. After independence of most African states, in the 1980‟s, the post-independence nation states bolstered its apparatus, both structurally and ideologically to enable it to deliver on this mandate.

After decades independence,  the Liberian state, the oldest in Africa and second black independence state in the world, next to Haiti,  needs greater economy recovery and massive development both infrastructure, institutions  and human.  Liberia is heavily burdened with debt, failing in its developmental objectives, is still recovering from the weakening of the capacity to deliver public and social goods directly to its citizens due to 14 years of devastated wars, ailing economic, brain-dream, fragmental public and private institutions, and importantly unpatriotic and disunity among political institutions and state actors and non-state actors.

Even though numerous concrete effects have been made, the Liberian state is economically weak and hampered to meet the demands of 21st century contemporary challenges to  upliftment citizenry from poverty.

Liberia and China are both developing countries facing common challenges of development and sharing broad common interests. It is incumbent on the Liberian state to continue to consolidate China-Liberia friendship, deepen strategic collaboration and enhance practical cooperation between the two countries. 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 deliver Ebola Virus Disease emergency support Liberia. China was the first to response 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, warding 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 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 in 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 remain strategic and true partners of Liberia.

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 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 spoken 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 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 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.

About the Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Program Of International Studies. He is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, 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 70 articles on of contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email:  Mobile (231) 880-3302-99.

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