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Opinions Tue, 20 Jun 2017

Mr. Vice President, consider this on your trip to China

Some Ghanaian media reported that the Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia is scheduled for China on a 5-day official visit to be hosted by his Chinese counterpart Vice President Li Yuanchao (see: www.graphic.com.gh, June 17, 2017). Under normal circumstances, the news of Ghana’s veep planned trip to China at the invitation of the Beijing’s top-ranking officials, especially China’s vice president, would not raise any mixed signal or shouldn’t evoke any eerie feeling on the part of any Ghanaian. But we are dealing with a “super-power” nation-state such as China, which has a lot of its nationals facing legal prosecution in Ghana for destroying the country’s lands via illegal mining or “galamsey” activities.

In that regard, China’s official invitation to Ghana’s vice president to visit the powerul Asian nation at this crucial juncture is not only questionable from the prism of interstate diplomacy, but also it shows the cunning extent to which the top echelons in Beijing will go to prey on the less powerful states. Admittedly, the question here is not that as sovereign nations Ghana and China shouldn’t engage each other on international arena so long as both countries have existing diplomatic relations.

China and Ghana have had diplomatic relations since the latter’s political independence in the 1950s; and, the subsequent years have witnessed increased trade, educational-cultural exchanges where some Ghanaians learned at Chinese colleges, knowledge sharing, and what have you. This trend, probably, is not going to change any time soon, barring any unforeseen diplomatic contingencies emerging between the two countries.

Nonetheless, what needs to change is the widespread defeatist attitude among less powerful countries like Ghana that leads them to throw its hands in the air that the world economic order is unjust; so, when it comes to negotiating with economically powerful states such as China, they have to accept anything throw their way at the bargaining table.

As l explained clearly in a previous write-up titled “Galamsey Saga, China’s Gifts or Soft Power Grips on Ghana” (see: www.myjoyonline.com, June 14, 2017), like all major world powers, China will not necessarily use “hard power” or military power to force any relatively weaker country to get the lion’s share of any international negotiation. Rather, the power-that-be in Beijing will resort to the use of “soft power” that includes but not limited to grants, loans, gifts, university scholarships, military hardware, and all types of aids to induce the economically vulnerable societies with the sole aim of promoting its (China) national interests.

Certainly no one is blaming China or any other world power for putting its national interests over personal interests of its leaders? To be fair to China, about 70 years ago it used to be poor, wretched, economically, and militarily vulnerable almost similar to Ghana today. But, through sheer hard work, self-pride, and selfless love for the country by its citizens, now it is known to be the only nation in contemporary history to develop at this lightening pace.

So how does Vice President Dr. Bawumia handle the Chinese diplomatic overtures while in China? Well, as the veep may know, all international relations are premised on assumptions. It presupposes that the visiting Ghanaian officials led by the vice president must also operate under the assumption that their Chinese hosts’ underlying motive for inviting them is to find ways to “soften” the Akuffo Addo-led government’s unyielding resolve to eradicate galamsey in Ghana.

No doubt China is super hungry for easy access to cheap raw materials for its countless manufacturing industries. Hence China is very interested and monitoring the galamsey crackdown by the current Ghana government. Indeed, the Chinese leaders are smart and savvy in the science of interstates diplomacy, including behind-the-scenes negotiations that favor the interests of their country.

There is the possibility that they will deliberately ignore any reference to illegal mining activities that has entrapped many Chinese citizens in Ghana. The diplomatic calculus here may be that by not bringing up the galamsey issue in the discussions, it may impress upon their Ghanaian counterparts that the invitation China extended to Ghana’s veep at this point has nothing to do with illegal mining involving the Chinese, but some of us “know what time it is.”

In fact, let’s be mindful that China has a sly way of presenting itself, especially in Africa, as part of the so-called Third World country. Perhaps the term is used craftily by China to let the least developed nations feel as if China belongs in their class—economically poor, struggling to develop, and not a global military power as the United States or Britain, but we know the contrary is the case.

At this point it doesn’t matter how China portrays itself in the international scene, the fact is that it has the second largest economy after U.S. and holds many of the U.S. foreign debts. It is also has the second largest military expenditure in the world after U.S.; that is not how an average Third World nation looks like. In actual fact China is not a developing country as it has been claiming since Cold War era. Instead, it can be aptly described as a full-grown elephant playing hide and seek behind cassava plant in a garden. Let no African leader accepts China’s age-old narrative that it is one of the developing nations so it understands Africa’s problems more than any other nation outside the continent. For all intents and purposes, it is all about its national interests just like any other world power.

So, Mr. Vice President, as the powerful Chinese officials host you and your entourage in their own backyard, do not forget to let them know politely that, like the Chinese, you also value and love your own country so your government will not allow anyone—citizen or noncitizen alike—to destroy Ghana’s lands via illegal mining. More importantly, insist upon Ghana’s vantage position, regardless of its comparatively weak economy, as one of the major nations in the sub-region and use them as bargaining chips in an attempt to secure favorable loans as opposed to financial aids. China will never rein in or stop encouraging its nationals from engaging in galamsey or illegal business that yield cheap raw materials for their country’s economy as long as Ghana goes there for assistance/aids with no credible leverage.

Bernard Asubonteng is a U.S.-based writer with advanced degree in US foreign policy/national security affairs. Send your comments: b.asubonteng@gmail.com
Columnist: Bernard Asubonteng