Li Zhaoxing the head of the Chinese diplomacy has practical experience. Whether in Japan to ease the crisis of history textbook ; or in Korea to seal an alliance against the Japanese drunkenness of obscene remembrance of past, Li Zhaoxing always has brilliant smile and frank handshake. Warm sincerity will say some, diplomatic trick will answer others. Whatever it is, the warm nature of Li Zhaoxing does not know border: in America, in Asia or in Africa, the man gives the feeling to privilege a diplomacy of nearness where everything can be settled by frank handshake and taps in the back. Between big countries, this ardour is restrained by the subtleties of political codes and gentlemen agreement ; but in Africa, a continent par excellence where warmth is value, China knows how to play old Third-World homesickness, and the diplomatic willingness of Li Zhaoxing arouses conviction.
Such is the case during his visit in Benin last week. In the TV, watching the Minister, at the head of an alert delegation with smile, walking across places, approaching his hosts and shaking hands warmly makes one forget the so called obsequious reserve of Asians, their legendary spare instinct. Mrs Boni Aladji, the gazelle of the Beninese diplomacy was in the seventh heaven. The charming smile of the Beninese Minister, married to the energetic gentleness of the tiger of the Chinese diplomacy made germs of spark. Was it the beginning of a triad ? Many a sign provided the feeling.
For somebody as me who had not been to Benin for some time, the presence of the Chinese in our cities, especially in Cotonou, is quite obvious; it seems commonplace, economically and sociologically. And China, in the fire of its offensive on our continent, seems to make sheep's eyes at Benin, her former ideological ally. But at the moment, business is first. Yesterday, it was Mao's red Book, today, places to contracts and figures. Among concrete fruits of this warm diplomacy, we can count : an agreement concerning the discount of part of Benin debt to China, a 30 million yuan loan (2,9 million euro) and a grant for the development of the administration in Benin and construction of road infrastructures. Also, at the charge, Mr Zhaoxing, who was due in equatorial Africa and elsewhere on the continent, proceeded to the launching of the construction of a Chinese commercial center in Benin; a centre intended to welcome in Cotonou a permanent exhibition of China commercial offers.
Smiles, frank handshakes, and community of Third-World experience are quite good. But what worries me is what a friend of mine working in the Foreign Ministry told me. According to this well informed civil servant, agreements with the Chinese are interesting, but they are often accompanied by a long period of transfer of technology, not to mention ownership right. Some delays may be as long as a hundred years! A hundred years, may not be so long for China, an old nation having behind her a past of several millenniums. But for us Africans who have been languishing in the shadow of poverty an alienation, finding it hard to take hold of our destiny and get rid of the fate, we look forward to making our own the Chinese proverb which says: " it is better to learn to fish rather than be given a fish " and I shall add gladly: " and not to be reduced to salivate while it is cooking in our own kitchen, in the Chinese sauce … "
© Copyright, Blaise APLOGAN, 2007