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Tanzania and China: highs and lows

Updated: 2014-07-25 08:44
( China Daily Africa)

Tanzania and China: highs and lows

Lyu Youqing, China's ambassador to Tanzania. Meng Chenguang / for China Daily

Ambassador hails the relationship, but can also see the warts

Editor's note: The pace of Chinese investment in Africa has picked up considerably in recent years, and voices against it in the international media have become a lot more muted. As more Chinese companies enter Africa, what impact have they made on China's national image? How can China's diplomats in Africa deal with these new challenges? Trade between China and Tanzania was worth $3.7 billion last year, and China became the second-biggest investor in Tanzania after Britain. Whether in politics or economics, the China-Tanzania relationship reflects the China-Africa relationship. China's ambassador to Tanzania Lyu Youqing talked to Southern Metropolis Daily.

Q: Can you tell us something about the China-Tanzania relationship?

A: Recently, China has put more emphasis on Africa than ever before. Africa has drawn the world's attention because of its rapid growth, but it also faces many contradictions.

Tanzania has particular advantages, including stable political and social conditions, rich natural resources, a great location and good leadership. Its economy has grown continuously for more than 10 years and it has good international relations and a broad market. Its imports are worth about $15 billion a year, and it has nine neighbors, constituting a market worth about $100 billion. Many of China's industries are confronted with overcapacity, so the country needs Tanzania's market. China can also offer employment to the country. A report by the African banking group Imara says China has created 150,000 jobs for local people, which is more than other investor.

China's advantages come down to several things. First, with decades of economic development experience, it has a keen eye for markets. Second, we have talent. Third, we know about management. At this stage, a lot of management in Tanzania fails to make the best use of its resources.

But the most important thing is that we have capital. We have $4 trillion of foreign exchange reserves and the capacity to invest in Africa. China also has a very sound reputation in Africa, whose people generally trust its government and its people.

You said that China has a good international standing in Africa, but in the international media we always see criticism of what China is doing in the continent. At the same time, many Chinese in Tanzania complain about problems such as robbery, customs searches and police harassment.

Yes, we are worried about the safety of Chinese people here. No other country's citizens complain about unfair treatment here the way Chinese do, such as customs' searches of their luggage, police stopping them in the street and so on, which can be a headache.

But there is more to this. First, in Africa, many Chinese people do not stick together. Instead they fight one another or undermine one another behind the scenes, or bad-mouth one another.

Second, there is a lack of sensitivity to the law. There are some who are well aware that certain things are illegal, yet they go ahead and do them regardless. That includes taking ivory, rhino horns, minerals and other banned exports out of the country.

There are many Chinese business people in Tanzania, but, as we know, Africans look on Chinese goods as being of low quality.

Chinese business people suffer a credibility problem, and the most serious has to do with making or selling fake goods. Let's be frank about that. I have even been on TV in Tanzania and said that some of the goods that come out of China are fakes, and of course some make it to Tanzania. I have also spelt out the reasons. First, there are some dishonest business people around, those who make the goods and those who sell them. Second, the management of exports and imports is not strict enough. The news media also fail in their role. They ought to expose fake goods and find out where they come from. But the most fundamental reason is that Tanzania is now in the early stages of economic development, and its consumer spending is still weak. You get what you pay for. You can't say all Chinese products are bad. After all, we built a spacecraft that landed on the moon. But ultimately good things cost more.

Our embassy has said it will not grant visas to business people who import fake goods, and we greatly support Tanzanian customs in its investigations. The solution is to improve collaboration between the two sides. The Chinese government can help Tanzania improve its regulatory capacity, and Chinese people's investment could help improve Tanzania's employment and income so they can buy quality products.

About 80 percent of Tanzania's construction projects are being carried out by Chinese companies. Are there many challenges in this area?

When I first became ambassador, it cost about $500,000 to build a 1-kilometer stretch of road. That cost is now rising because of our management. We have taken steps to avoid cutthroat competition between contractors. We have set up associations to ensure there is market access. In the construction industry, competition is obviously fierce, but we don't allow extreme competition that reduces costs and compromises quality. In a neighboring country I visited, a 1 km stretch of road costs only about $300,000 to $400,000.

What will happen if things go on like this for three to five years? Africans generally don't say this is made by such and such a company. They say that it is made in China, and poor performance by Chinese companies ultimately tarnishes the country's image.

What is the embassy doing to deal with such problems?

A country's image is its national interest. We have taken measures in four areas to improve the standing of Chinese people. The first thing was to regulate people's behavior. Second was to improve product quality at reasonable prices. Third was to regulate companies' behavior and make sure they realize their social responsibilities, and fourth was to ensure the effectiveness of foreign aid projects.

We have set up organizations in every city, and every industry now has its associations. We want all these organizations to start talking about various things relating to Tanzania and to help one another regulate their behavior.

As for the quality of products and project contracts, we have helped Chinese business people set up a chamber of commerce. After that was set up, they took a stand by pledging to maintain quality, and by cracking down on fakes, thus letting Africans know of China's zero-tolerance of fake goods. We also set up a chamber of commerce relating to project contracts, to improve management and avoid cutthroat price competition. The chamber will be quick to let everyone know about companies breaking the rules.

In 2011, dozens of Chinese were shot dead in Tanzania, but in the past few years, no similar cases happened. We have repeatedly asked Chinese not to carry large amounts of cash, and they need to take strict anti-robbery measures if they are carrying large amounts of cash.

Some Chinese have a penchant for casinos. Some waste food. They shouldn't. If they do, what are Tanzanians going to think of us?

You just mentioned foreign aid, which is a sensitive subject, because many Chinese don't understand why China spends a lot of money helping Africa, even though it has many poor people and poor areas itself.

In truth, the amount we put into foreign aid is very limited. Some people may think our aid to Africa has been huge, but we simply do what we can afford. China's aid to Africa is just one seventh or one tenth that of the US' aid. We are now Tanzania's second-biggest trading partner, but China has a trade surplus of about $2 billion. Chinese companies complete about 80 percent of Tanzanian construction projects, which amount to about $4 billion every year. If the profit is 10 percent, Chinese companies would make about $300 million. So foreign aid benefits both parties. This is also an international responsibility and a task we must shoulder.

As for managing foreign aid, we need to choose projects that the host government needs, and that will increase income and benefit local people. During this process, the embassy and the chamber of commerce should maintain oversight to ensure quality. Nothing we build should ever be done in a shoddy way.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 07/25/2014 page9)

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