Since people call China’s growth since 1978 a miracle, I decided to study at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD) in Beijing to understand what lessons from China can be applied to my home country, Liberia, and to other African countries.
What policies can be used to help emancipate people from a dragnet of poverty and improve their standard of living? What policies has China used to create consistently high growth rates, averaging 9.85 percent annually, over such a long period of time?
How can such policies be adapted to an African setting to help alleviate some of the major economic challenges that we face?
China did not apply the “Washington consensus” policies of rapid marketization and privatization. It is now better off than the countries that applied these growth strategies. From Nigeria to Liberia to Latin America, these policies have not led to sustained growth. Why did the nations that applied the Washington consensus fail, and why did a country that did not apply these policies succeed?
I came to China to study whether the Washington consensus or “socialism with Chinese characteristics” or some other political prescription can be used to treat developing countries for the diseases of poverty and economic stagnation.
Earlier, I went to university in Liberia, and then had the opportunity to study at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in the United States. Now I am in China. This triangular academic experience is intended to help me explore solutions to some of the major challenges that confront developing countries, especially in Africa.
China’s large investment in research and development, amounting to more than 2 percent of GDP, is practically and visibly seen through the level of infrastructure development, the construction of superhighways and modern industries.
As a means of expanding its developmental trajectory to other parts of the world, China has adopted the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to boost connectivity by reviving the ancient Silk Road routes. Simply put, it is a trade and investment program that helps expand China’s economic growth corridors while at the same time bringing shared prosperity to other nations along the routes.
Liberia is currently getting a lot of support from China in terms of infrastructure. Some are gifts to the Liberian people; for example, the addition to the legislature and a new ministerial complex are gifts from China.
Much work is being done under the auspices of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). It is a mixture of infrastructure development, in terms of loans at low interest rates, and industrial cooperation, in terms of manufacturing.
We are now trying to put regulations in place to ensure that foreign direct investment takes import substitution into consideration. Most of the intermediate goods that can be produced in Liberia will be produced in terms of semi-finished products. We do not want to be involved just in the export of natural resources; we want to transform them into finished products so that we can add value.
Under FOCAC, China is building a steel complex in Liberia. Instead of exporting iron ore, steel will be manufactured in Liberia and exported to surrounding countries. Natural resources will be converted into a finished product.
The influence of China in the development of Africa is enormous. Most of the new thinking on economic development will focus on how African countries will gain from the advantages that China presents and from the lessons of its development path.
The author is a student at ISSCAD and a former assistant minister for international cooperation at Liberia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.