The progressive Chinese-Nigerian relations which have been on the rise in recent times got a fresh boost with the partnership agreement signed by the Zhejiang Normal University, University of Abuja and Heritage Africa-China Research Institute with the aim of promoting mutual cultural and economic development. In this interview with Deputy Editor, Nation’s Capital, YOMI ODUNUGA, and Correspondent, ROSE OKEKE, The Director of the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, Professor Liu Hongwu, speaks on his passion to positively change the narrative and engender mutually beneficial relations between
We know you once studied in Nigeria and you have been here a couple of times. One is curious to know what brought you to Abuja, the nation’s capital this time.
The purpose of coming to Nigeria is for this conference, titled: ‘A new era for China-Africa cooperation, partnership for peace, security and development’, jointly organised by the Gusau Institute and the Centre for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University. This programme is meant to bring together scholars to brainstorm to bring about peace and development in Africa. I studied History and Nigerian Culture at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) about 30 years ago, and coming to Nigeria is like returning home. I have also been promoting relations between China and Nigeria, and the best way to accomplish this is to promote the culture and history of Africa and Nigeria, in order for China to understand the African continent better.
So, what is unique about Zhejiang University?
Zhejiang University is located near Shanghai. There are lots of Africans doing business in another city which is also near the University, called Yiwu and the Yiwu International Trade City is the largest wholesale market in the world. Let me also note that between China and Nigeria is a 47-year relationship, as China formed diplomatic relations with Nigeria in 1971.In our institute, we have over 40 scholars from various African countries. Our institute has several different research centres for Economic, History, Culture, Educational, and Films and Media Studies. The Films and Media division aims to promote Nollywood films because the consumption in China would be very profitable, because we have over 1.4bn people.
In what ways would you say the institute has been able to carry out its agenda?
We have country-based centres for study. These include the Centre for Egypt Studies and Centre for Nigerian Studies. The Centre for Nigerian Studies was established as part of cooperative efforts between Nigerian and Chinese scholars. I wish to give back to the Nigerian community by developing this centre. The Executive Director of this centre is a Nigerian and his assistant is a Chinese scholar. The centre serves as a think-tank between African and Chinese scholars. Also, we translate ancient documents pertaining to the association between China and Africa as well as other parts of the world.
Having studied in Nigeria and, naturally, exposed to our culture, is there a way one can tap into the cultural differences to engender peace in Nigeria and Africa at large?
With respect to culture, China and Africa as a whole have strong diversities, and thus different perspectives and diverse modes of development. Therefore, we must have in-depth interactions to understand each other. These diversities should be made into resources to promote development. China has cultural diversities within herself, but these differences serve to unify the country. We know that we are in the era of globalisation, a global village where people interact with each to exchange ideas and interact with each other. If we let diversity divide us, it will cause insecurity and conflict. Recently, the Chinese president Xi Jinping started championing a common cause for humanity which entails that our diversity should not cause separation. All cultures are good, none is superior, so we should identify and bring these differences together to be able to foster amiability and unity. We have been able to carry out this agenda because the institute has different departments and centres with the institute carrying out research on African history. Also, we have programmes and seminars for African institute leaders and universities. We partner with these institutes and send Chinese scholars to them for short or long-term study of African culture. We have lots of African students studying in China on government scholarships. We have African museums with different artifacts from ancient civilisations, such as Nok. Last year the Chinese government sponsored 6,000 students from Africa and, currently, we have over 10,000 self-sponsored students from Africa studying in China.
How has China benefited from its relationship with African countries?
China’s work in Africa has encouraged the acceptance and recognition of China by the international community. Promoting the development in Africa has given China a voice in the United Nations. Also, the Chinese economy has grown rapidly because investors are investing in these foreign lands. Chinese economy is transforming from a manufacturing base to an innovative one. Moving this to Africa will promote development to become a leader in economic development. Income generation is low in Africa and that is why China is focused on promoting industrialisation in Africa. The Western perception between China and Africa is seen as a threat to the world, but they should see it as an opportunity to bring about a positivechange to the development of Africa.
What are some of the challenges that hinder Sino-African interaction and relations?
The number of Chinese scholars that study and understand African culture is far too few in number. Only few of them know about the African way, and vice versa. Few African scholars have in-depth knowledge and understanding of African culture. Second is the huge gap in language difference, language barrier. The government has made it compulsory for us to promote scholarly exchange and close this gap. As a research institute, our interests are not limited to government and politics alone. The film industry is another part of it. There are plans for Moses, the Director of Heritage Africa/China Research Institute, to visit the institute to determine how we can promote culture. We should have an open mind as to how to promote cultural understanding. We look for these partnerships because culture is a new way that can generate income for African countries. If we shoot a documentary and send it to China broadcasting stations, more tourists would want to visit the location of the documentary and we have over a billion population. This promotes tourism as there is no formal tourism partnership between China and Africa. We hope to take part in the upcoming AFRIF festival and are looking for investors to aid us in this. Media is a very important tool to promote cultural understanding. Our Films and Media Centre has produced a documentary, titled: Africans in Yiwu and it is being broadcast in Beijing.
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