Strong foundations of friendship

China Daily | 作者: Zeng aiping | 时间: 2014-05-26 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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By Zeng Aiping

The principles and policies elaborated by Zhou Enlai during his trip to Africa 50 years ago have cemented the bonds of amity

The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of former premier Zhou Enlai's historic state visit to 10 African countries, which set the tone for the friendship between China and Africa and had lasting and profound significance on their engagement today.

Around 34 African countries had obtained their political independence, others were still struggling to get rid of the shackles of imperialism and colonialism, when Zhou led a Chinese government delegation on visits to Egypt (then called the United Arab Republic), Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. The trip lasted for almost two months, from December 14, 1963 to February 4, 1964, a rare phenomenon in the history of summit diplomacy, and the first time that a Chinese national leader had stepped on the continent of Africa. The trip laid the foundation for ChinaAfrica friendship, and defined China's policy toward Africa in the decades to come.

In Egypt, the first leg of his trip, Zhou said that instead of the land of darkness and desperation vilified by the imperialists, what he saw was an awakening and combatant continent; the dawn of freedom had appeared on the horizon, and the regimes of colonialism and imperialism were inevitably falling apart. When meeting with Egyptian President Gamal AbdelNasser, Premier Zhou put forward the five principles governing China's approach to relations with African countries, the first being China's support of African people in their fight against imperialism and colonialism and their struggle for national independence.

During the welcoming reception in Tunisia, the host, President Habib Bourguiba, criticized China's October 1962 approach to its territorial dispute with India, and China's disapproval of the Partial Test Ban Treaty signed by Soviet Union, Britain and America in August 1963. His remarks made the atmosphere very tense. However, Zhou reacted gracefully, saying he appreciated Bourguiba's frankness. He said it would help China better understand African countries' stance on important issues. He stressed that it was normal for China and Tunisia to hold different opinions on some issues, and that the purpose of his trip was to seek friendship and cooperation with African countries, and China was willing to develop friendly relations with Tunisia based on the spirit of seeking common ground while reserving differences. Moved by Zhou's sincerity, Bourguiba announced the official establishment of diplomatic ties with China the next day.

A friend in need is a friend indeed. Before Zhou headed to Ghana in January 1964, an assassination attempt injured President Kwame Nkrumah and killed his chief bodyguard. China's delegation faced the dilemma of whether to go as planned or not. Nkrumah assumed that Zhou would not come. However, Zhou insisted on going as scheduled, saying he could not cancel this meeting just because of the temporary difficulties encountered by Ghana and it was neither supportive nor respectful to Nkrumah not to go. For the safety of his host, Zhou further demanded the forgoing of all the usual diplomatic protocols. Zhou's consideration and thoughtfulness touched Nkrumah, who gave Zhou a warm and excited hug when they met. In Ghana, Zhou proposed the Eight Principles of China's Assistance to African Countries, which emphasized that China would never consider its foreign aid as a unilateral grant, but rather a mutual and reciprocal process from which China also benefits, that China would respect the sovereignty of the recipient country, and that the purpose of China's assistance is to support the self-reliance and independence of African countries.

In Mali, when Zhou was enthusiastically imitating a cheerful and vigorous local dance, President Modibo Keita told Zhou that, in Africa, singing and dancing are an indispensable part of life. In their meetings, Zhou shared with Keita China's experiences on governance and economic development, which covered the capacity building of the governing party, the elimination of the residues of colonialism and the importance of safeguarding economic independence. There were many other touching stories during Zhou's visits to the other countries. Wherever he went, he could vividly feel the warmth, friendship, hospitality and trust of Africans toward him and China.

The principles and policies elaborated by Zhou during this trip have since been faithfully implemented by Chinese governments, and the respect and intimacy shown by Zhou toward the Africans he met reflect the mode that has characterized the interaction between China and Africa.

Zhou's visit to 10 African countries defined China's approach to engaging with Africa, which will never fundamentally change. President Xi Jinping said in 2013 that China's policy toward Africa was characterized by four key words, namely, zhen (truth), shi (concreteness), qin (closeness) and cheng (sincerity); and that China and Africa have a shared history and common destiny. Today, we are still enjoying the benefits of Zhou's groundbreaking journey to Africa. We should uphold that legacy and do everything possible to prolong the friendship between Africa and China.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.

Source: China Daily