By Bukola Ogunsina, Beijing, China
Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong Province in China, home to a large population of Africans. A well-known business hub, and one of the earliest trade ports open to the world. However, the capital city has more than business to offer, BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes…
The tour of Guangzhou began with a ferry sail at night across the Pearl River. A magnificent view of the Canton Tower, a symbol of Guangzhou shone in the myriad of lights. It was easy to see why people across the world visited. The experience competes with a night out on Seine River in Paris or the Thames River in London. When the Director General of Guangdong Foreign Affairs Office, Luo Jun said, “We welcome more visitors not only on business but tourism,” it made a lot of sense.
People sat at tables, served by waiters, enjoying the view. Halfway through the trip nearly everyone was on their feet, moving close to the rails, excited, clicking away at their cameras while others stood at the helm, enjoying the night.
Guangzhou city is the capital of Guangdong Province, called the ‘South Gate,’ of China. The weather, hot and humid like a wet blanket draped over one’s shoulders in a welcoming fashion, reminiscent of Africa. Guangzhou is home to many Nigerians, and one of the fastest growing cities in China, home of traditional Chinese medicine.
The following day, we set out to explore. The buildings of the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine (GUCM) loomed in the tropical backdrop. The Deputy Director of the division of international cooperation of GUCM, Mr Li Hui revealed that the campus has 18,000 students, and a small population of those were African students who Li said have fared well academically, returning home to become leaders in their areas of specialisation.
The President of GUCM, Wang Shenliang said about 23,000 out patients visit the hospital daily. Doctors from GUCM have worked with doctors from African teams as the Chinese government works with African countries to improve healthcare.
“We have tasks for assisting African countries, especially for anti-malaria medicine,” Wang said. “I am very happy that this weekend, I will go to Malawi and Kenya for some cooperation tasks.”
A Professor at GUCM, member of the research team, Jianping Song disclosed “We have already eliminated malaria in Comoros.” The GUCM works with Artemisinin, a plant rooted in Chinese medicine as part of its process for eradication of malaria. It combines Artemisinin with Piperaquine to produce the brand ‘Artequick.’
Jianping noted the university is working with several African countries. “We also want the governments of these countries to invite us to eradicate malaria,” he said. The team has been able to do this through focusing on the source found in the human body to prevent contraction of malaria. Malaria he said, has two hosts, the body and the mosquito.
The GUCM team used for its fight against malaria, what it called the ‘Mass Drug Administration,’ a vaccine campaign that works hand in hand with the application of Artemisinin. He welcomed academic cooperation between Africa and the university.
During a tour of the department’s museum, a guide explained the various types of herbs stored away and their uses. Artemisinin is derived from a local plant called the Southernwood. Other traditional medicines include; Coriander, for healthy memory; Rhinoceros horn, for blood circulation and the heart; Chinese Fungus, good for the blood, reduces anxiety and aids sleep; Sandi Amomi Amari, a plant to prevent dementia and aid memory, while Snake wine is used to cure paralysis (traditionally drank, unconfirmed by western medical practitioners).
Down to more business with officials of Guangdong Province, Director General of Guangdong Foreign Affairs Office, Luo Jun explained that there were about 110 million people in Guangdong in 2016. It was the most popular city, most dynamic and open economy in China, spending 1 trillion US dollars on export and import.
“The year 2017 is an important year for the five year plan period and structural reform…. Guangdong is to promote the five in one layout of the economic development,” he said, noting that consumer price increase will be controlled by 3 percent, and unemployment reduced to 3.5 percent, while aiming for a better taxation and financial system.
“We will increase our economy, promote high quality development of the private sector. We will take active part in the Belt and Road Initiative. Reform agricultural sector, coordinate development of Urban and Rural areas,” he said.
Luo noted that Guangdong was one of China’s earliest trade ports open to the outside world, and as such Guangdong natives are known for their open and enterprising nature. “Through the platform of the Canton Fair, Guangdong has done business with the world,” he pointed out, adding that there were 57 foreign consulates in Guangdong. The Province currently has 122 sister cities around the world, and encourages more sister province relationships.
Key events this year in Guangdong include the Canton Fair, (currently ongoing) and China-Guangdong SME’s Expo, an opportunity to conduct international exchanges. Luo disclosed that fifty African Ambassadors with their spouses officially visited Guangdong to ‘promote mutually beneficial cooperation,’ meant to further enhance exchanges with Africa. Also the ‘Invest in Africa Forum’ took place with more than 300 delegates in attendance.
With the growth of the tourism sector in 2013, total number of visitors exiting and entering through Guangdong ports increased. “Nigeria and Senegal are two countries that had a large number of its citizens visiting Guangdong,” Luo said.
He pointed out that every year Guangdong Province sends about 8 million visitors to see the world. “It is our hope that the people of Guangdong will visit African countries,” he said.
In terms of Guangdong’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Deputy Director General of Guangdong Department of Development and Reform Commission, Zhong Ming revealed that the government has instructed Guangdong Province to be a pioneer of the BRI.
The level of connectivity has increased significantly. Guangdong has succeeded in opening direct rail lines with Russia, Central Asia among others. “In China, Guangdong is the closest province to Africa, and has enjoyed longstanding friendship with Africa. We hope the Belt and Road Initiative will open a new chapter for more relations with Africa,” he said.
Similarly a senior official from the Department of Commerce, Wen Xiaohuan said that China has always seen Africa as an area of industrial and trade cooperation. She re-emphasised the establishment of FOCAC as a celebration of successful development cooperation between Africa and China. She disclosed that Nigeria was among ten countries of which Guangdong had a 20 percent import and export volume. Guangdong’s largest investments are located in ten countries to include Nigeria, and by the end of 2016, two largest investments of Guangdong in Africa were situated in Ghana and Uganda.
Guangdong has invested six industrial parks in Africa with a total investment of about 3.7 billion US dollars. Areas already developed include the ‘Nigeria/Guangdong Economic and Cooperation Zone, with investment of about 86 billion US dollars. “Africa is a ready market for Guangdong products,” Wen said, however adding that to facilitate business, Africa needs to improve on its infrastructure among others and that both parties should work towards strengthening its manufacturing, energy, resources, infrastructure development, tourism and cultural exchanges.
Luo in turn added that Guangdong’s economic strength will allow it cooperate with more African countries. In healthcare for example, an area that poses some challenges in Africa, Luo believes that traditional Chinese medicines in areas of acupuncture, massage among others, can play a vital role. “We do not need to have operations for every problem, Chinese medicine can solve some of these problems,” he said, adding that Guangdong is a leading Province in China in terms of traditional Chinese medicine and the Province is happy to share its knowledge.
The 121st Canton Fair was a colourful event, melting pot of buyers and sellers from various ethnicities. Meeting with officials, the Deputy Director General and Secretary General of China Import & Export Fair, Mr Li Jinqi explained that the China import and export fair, inaugurated in 1957, is important to China’s foreign sector. “During each session we have about 20,000 buyers and about 21 countries from around the world participating with a 30 billion US dollar transaction value.”
Li said it was the largest fair in the world with the best turn over. “Canton Fair has been growing rapidly in the past six decades. It has an international and national pavilion,” he said adding that the plan is to hopefully build Canton Fair into a multidimensional, comprehensive platform.
Although the participants from Africa are very few, the organisers welcome more Africans to take part in the event. “Canton Fair has always been devoted to deepening trade and development between China and Africa,” Li said.
According to an official of the International and Communications Department, Mr Alan, exhibition stands by Africans include Egypt and Tanzania among others. “As China has started the BRI, we are confident there will be more African exhibitors,” he said. In terms of criteria for inviting exhibitors, Alan stated, “We consider two factors, whether the products fit the theme of the fair, and if products match China’s domestic demand,” he said. The Electronics and Electrical Household appliances section at the trade fair, displayed innovation at its finest. From the various selections of coffee makers, Vacuum cleaners, fans to the home wares made in Egypt.
A little later and we were on our way to the famous Canton Tower, the highest building in China and third highest in the world. The tower fondly nicknamed ‘Xiaomanyao,’ in Chinese by locals meaning, ‘slim waist of a fair lady,’ stands at a height of 600 metres. It won several world records; the highest revolving restaurant, highest heart-pumping vertical free fall Sky Drop, and the highest post office in the world, among others. It is also a site for romantic couples as many are said to have proposed to their loved ones standing on top of the tower. The main focus of the day was the Sky Drop, and it delivered on its promise!
After the exhilarating ride on the free fall Sky Drop, came the visit to Yuexiu District, an area with a high concentration of foreigners. Dengfeng Community Family Integrated Services Centre stood at the junction of the quarters. Social workers there to assist foreigners living in the area integrate into the environment. The project supervisor, Hai Ge Wang explained what happens at the centre, how communal disputes are resolved between foreigners and locals as well as free Chinese language lessons among other assistance. Shops lined the streets with colourful items for sale. From dainty handbags to various kinds of shoes and cosmetics. As the evening came calling, many did not yet want to leave, as they felt so much at home in this exotic part of Guangzhou. Hopefully, there will be more visits to this city of business and tourism.
NEWS – leadership.ng