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Ambassador Liu Guijin: China is not and will never be a "neocolonialist" in Africa
2006/10/16

(Ask the Embassy)

Q: According to some media reports, China is or will be a "neocolonialist" in Africa. What's your comment?

Ambassador Liu Guijin:

I've also noticed that there are some noises about China's presence in Africa. They mainly come from a small number of people who look at China from colored spectacles, I should say.

As China's ambassador to South Africa, my response to this question is something you can bet your bottom dollar on. But I do not think it right to force my conclusion on you and I am not trying to do so. What brings to my mind at the moment is that China could be a colonialist hundreds of years ago if China ever wanted to be one.

600 years ago, Zheng He, the famous navigator of China's Ming Dynasty, led the then largest fleet in the world and made seven voyages to the "Western Seas," reaching more than 30 countries and regions in Asia and Africa. Even today, the relics of the crew of his fleet can still be found in Kenya and other countries.

The era of colonialism began only after the Great Geographic Discovery by Europeans. Zheng He's voyages through the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, however, were 87 years earlier than Columbus' voyage, 92 years earlier than Vasco Da Gama's voyage, and 114 years earlier than Magellan's voyage. But what Zheng He took to the places he visited were tea, chinaware, silk and technology. He did not occupy an inch of any newly discovered land or set up any military fortresses.

Why Zheng He did not become a colonialist? I am not a historian. But I can say with certainty that he did not lack the power to be one. With around 200 ships and 27,800 people, his fleet was without any doubt the largest and the most powerful in the world 600 years ago.

Zheng He did not colonize before the era of colonialism, nor did his countrymen till the end of the colonialism era. What I want to call your attention to is the fact that before the year of 1840 China had been a giant power in the world for centuries. According to calculations by the renowned economic historian Angus Maddison, China produced a quarter of total world output 2,000 years ago, and almost the same proportion 1,000 years ago. Around 1400, which happened to witness a middle-aged Zheng He who lived from 1371 to 1435, China's national economic output was estimated to be equal to that of Europe. Even as late as 1820, it is estimated that China still produced one third of the world's output. China had been made poor and weak only by repeated foreign invasions during the 109 years starting from the year of 1840 when China was forced to fight the Opium War.

Apparently, China did not colonize others in history not for lack of power. China simply did not have any intention to do so. The pursuit of harmony is deeply rooted in Chinese traditions. More than 2,500 years ago, the great Chinese philosopher Confucius already set the Golden Rule-what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others. Or to put it in a more literal way, do unto others as you would have them do unto you-which has nurtured the mindset of the Chinese people for thousands of years. The concept of harmony is actually a key theme of the Confucian thought. To colonize others is simply against Chinese traditions and values.

So, from a deeper perspective of the Chinese traditional culture, what Zheng He the great navigator did-not to colonize any others though he was able to-was by no means accidental. Quite the opposite, that was inevitable. That's why all through history China never occupied an inch of African land and never put a finger in the slave trade.

Today, China is working hard to build a harmonious society domestically and is in favor of building a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity. The humiliation and insult China once suffered still remain fresh in the memory of all Chinese. It is thus an inevitable choice for China to embark on the road of peaceful development. This is based on China's national conditions, China's historical and cultural tradition, and the trend of development in the present world. This is in the fundamental national interests of China. I see no logic for China to break away from its traditional pursuit of harmony, forget its miserable past, and damage its fundamental national interests to be an unpopular "neocolonialist" in Africa or elsewhere.

In no way does China deserve the title of "neocolonialist".

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