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Opportunity throws open its doors

Updated: 2014-10-10 07:26
By Jin Yingzhong (China Daily Africa)

Africa center will bring two closer together and help dispel ignorance

The creation of a center in Shanghai that will act as a bridge between China and Africa is something to be heartily celebrated throughout China and in Africa.

What is particularly noteworthy about this grand 130,000 square meter complex is that it is all being done by a private company.

It will be a channel through which African governments can approach Chinese investors in China and promote their culture to Chinese. For Chinese the center will make it far easier to apply for visas for African countries and to get information on investing in the continent.

In ancient China, many private traders played a leading role in the Silk Road and in other commercial ventures, introducing the world to Chinese goods and culture and helping China understand the world.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) the navigator Wang Dayuan reached the east coast of Africa decades earlier than Zheng He, dispatched by the government to explore the world and look for trading opportunities.

In modern times, Chinese entrepreneurs have been very active in building connections with the rest of the world. Decades ago, many young people like He Liehui, founder of the Africa Center, went to Africa with little more than a dream. They have achieved a lot and contributed a tremendous amount to the China-Africa relationship

Of course, this is very much a two-way affair, and many African businesses and individuals are now present in China, a prime example being the commodities market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province.

But active communication does not necessarily mean successful communication, and the relationship between China and Africa at a governmental level has been a lot stronger than the relationship on a business level.

News about conflicts between Chinese investors and Africans is commonplace, and many on the continent do not necessarily see Chinese businesses as white knights. In non-governmental communication, everyone can contribute to building relationships, but then again, everyone is capable of damaging relationships, too.

Some Chinese still nurse prejudices and misunderstandings relating to Africa, and that can manifest itself in business dealings. In practical terms that has hampered Chinese companies ignorant of culture and of social and legal systems.

In a sense, views proffered by businesspeople come to represent the voice of the market, so they are readily heard. Those views will necessarily be informed and molded by the person's country of provenance and his or her culture.

As Africa develops rapidly and becomes more open to the world, welcoming more investment from China and elsewhere, it is important that those who want to do business with it inform themselves about exactly who and what they are dealing with.

The Africa Center in Shanghai will help them do that. To them it will deliver business opportunities and information that will make investing in Africa much less of a hit-and-miss affair. In such an improvement to communications there can be no losers.

The center presents a fabulous opportunity for Chinese to learn about Africa and its opportunities and for Africans to learn about China and the opportunities it offers.

The author is secretary-general of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies

(China Daily Africa Weekly 10/10/2014 page7)

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