Economic Diplomacy At Work

Xi Jinping’s Official Visit

There is also undoubtedly a good part of strategic and geo-political reflection as well in the determination of the degree of interest which the Chinese government shows for our country. We are here in the realm of “realpolitik”, and it would be fruitless to ignore this part of the equation

If some people still had a modicum of doubt about the fact that one of the greatest assets of Mauritius remains its strategic position in the Indian Ocean, the visit of Mr Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, accompanied by a 200-strong delegation should give them ample food for thought. Economic diplomacy lies at the heart of how we as a nation succeed in maintaining the fine line between extracting maximum benefits from this asset without surrendering our sovereignty in the process. It goes without saying that this is a fundamental principle which must guide our diplomacy with all our willing partners.

China is one of the countries from which the ancestors of one singularly important component of the population of Mauritius has originated – although sadly their numbers are declining critically due to migration. Mauritians take great pride in the richness of the diversity in the composition of our population and appreciate the contributions of each component in the compendium of cultures that constitute our uniqueness as a nation.

Similarly, successive Chinese regimes have taken great pride in their diaspora spread in so many parts of the world. The achievements and contribution of their “kith and kin” in the success of our country is something that has not escaped the attention of the Chinese authorities. It surely constitutes one of the basic considerations that informs their special interest for our country.

On the occasion of the visit of Mr Xi Jinping, it might be useful to remember that newly independent Mauritius was among the first few countries that officially recognized the People’s Republic of China. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, in his wisdom, had taken this decision at a time when the world was dominated by the Cold War and a fledgling Non-Aligned Movement was struggling to emerge as a significant third force. It is undeniably a trait of the successive post-revolutionary Chinese regimes that such a gesture should forever be remembered and given due consideration.

The scene having thus been set, one must be careful not to be completely naïve or disingenuous. It must be recognized that there is also undoubtedly a good part of strategic and geo-political reflection as well in the determination of the degree of interest which the Chinese government shows for our country. We are here in the realm of “realpolitik”, and it would be fruitless to ignore this part of the equation in our determination to have the right balance between “give and take” as we engage with that great and exceedingly important economic player that China has become in the new global order.

China is now the most important foreign contributor to the economic development of emerging Africa. It is well known that this development has not occurred without some controversy and even been marred by protests in some countries. The fact remains though that its contribution to the development of vast public infrastructure projects – from roads to rails to airports and power plants — has been considerable and will continue to be an incontrovertible part of the future of the development of the African continent.

Hopefully, in a near future, individual nations and governments, or why not the African Union, could take necessary steps to correct what is viewed as “excesses” by the Chinese operators in Africa. In this regard the recent trends in the rate of growth of many African nations as well as the progress made in the consolidation of democratic institutions will certainly contribute to further consolidation of the “bargaining power” of the Africans in the future.

The conditions for the realization of the ambition of Mauritius to become a business hub between Asia and Africa has never been so alive and pregnant with possibilities. China and India, to name but these two, have now become major exporters of capital. Africa as the last frontier for major foreign direct investments is high on the agenda of both countries.

China’s pragmatic approach to economic growth and its success offer a model of economic development which is nearer to the “realities” of many African nations especially with regard to the latter’s determination of “leap frogging” from the status of least developed countries to that of at least middle-income economies with a thriving middle class. How does Mauritius craft a position for itself which adds value to this process of transfer of technology, finance and knowledge between Asia and Africa must constitute the foundations of our African Strategy.

Fortunately, the relations between China and Mauritius have been at the top of the agenda of our economic diplomacy for several decades now. They have built on the “soft” conditions which have been described above and evolved into a solid partnership. This evolution has been dictated by local as well as international developments. China has gradually integrated the global economy and become a full member of the World Trade Organization thus agreeing to play by the “rules based” terms of global trade.

The financing or several important public infrastructure projects, among which the new Airport Terminal, has been the cornerstone of the “privileged” relationship between our two nations. Among others, one must mention the Jing Fei Business Park that has the potential to become the “jewel in the crown” of this relationship. The business is posed to grow into what could be an iconic instrument along the value chain of technology and knowledge transfer.

Finally the Chinese and Mauritian governments are presently engaged in negotiations for the signing of a China-Mauritius Free Trade Agreement. As is the case with all such agreements, it will surely be a long complex process. In the end though its usefulness and benefits will have to be understood beyond its mercantilist aspects in the context of the larger picture of the ambitions of the two countries.


* Published in print edition on 27 July 2018

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