Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

China official: Africa must compete with the world

By Robyn Curnow, CNN
July 1, 2013 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
  • Zhong Jianhua is China's special representative on African Affairs
  • Africa will have to face short-term pain for long-term economic gain, he says
  • Zhong says lifting Africa out of poverty will help China develop itself

CNN Marketplace Africa is a weekly show offering a unique window into African business on and off the continent.

(CNN) -- Three decades ago Chinese leaders unleashed a series of economic reforms that helped lift millions of people out of poverty and transform the Asian country into an industrial powerhouse with a mighty foreign reserve arsenal.

The transition, however, was far from smooth.

"Particularly the first 10 years, it was really tough and hard," explains Zhong Jianhua, China's special representative on African Affairs. "So many businesses, factories, go (into) bankruptcy, millions of workers were being redundant or unemployed."

Before becoming today's economic behemoth, China was mainly an agricultural economy that boasted huge reserves of natural resources -- quite similar to many parts of Africa. So are there any lessons that African countries can learn from China as they bid to boost their economies and achieve their development goals?

According to Zhong, long-term economic success doesn't come without short-term cost, and that is the message he is keen to get across to African leaders.

"When we introduce our experience to African countries, on one side we need to say what you should do and need to do, and probably on the other side we should emphasize what you could expect."

Africans look for opportunities in China
China's economic influence in Africa

CNN's Robyn Curnow spoke to Zhong about trade, investment and what lessons can Africa learn from China's rise to a superpower.

An edited version of the interview follows.

CNN: What can China teach Africa?

Zhong Jianhua: I can tell you a lot of things about what happened in China, what we have learned and what we experienced. Personally I think that probably for the last few years when we try to impress people that we are successful with this open reform policy, we emphasize too much on what we have achieved.

Obama's goal in Africa: Counter China

This is good because you need to prove you are successful but I think a little bit thing that's being ignored is how much we've paid for that. And if you are ignoring the price you pay for this kind of success, and particularly for African countries, if they understood that 'you Chinese have some tricks, teach me the trick and then I will be as rich as you are' and then we, particularly myself, look back and say "Geez, these 30 years how did we experience that?"

Particularly the first 10 years it was really tough and hard; so many businesses, factories, go (into) bankruptcy, millions of workers were being redundant or unemployed. So probably when we introduce our experience to African countries, on one side we need to say what you should do and need to do, and probably on the other side we should emphasize what you could expect.

(A) repeat (of) what happened in China benefits Africa, and China itself will also benefit from that.
Zhong Jianhua, China's representative on African Affairs

CNN: Do you think African leaders are ready, willing and able to make those sacrifices?

ZJ: I will not answer on their behalf; I would rather let them to answer that. But what we can contribute is to share what we have experienced.

This could possibly happen anywhere if you want to have a reform. I think African countries, if they want to reform the structure of the economy, want to come forward and to become developed, this kind of challenge probably will come to them sooner or later.

Read this: Can China transform Africa?

CNN: China in many ways is part of this reform in Africa, a relationship that is becoming more criticized. Nigeria's Central Bank governor wrote, for example, recently that China's relationship with Africa whiffs of colonialism.

ZJ: I fully understand him. I think he has the reason to be anxious, sometimes be angry. But I say that don't jump to the conclusion so easily. Colonialism is a heavy word; when I think about colonialism I think about the six cents a barrel of oil being exported from this continent, leaving this continent with only poverty.

But now what's happening is changing this whole continent. Because with the commodity trade with the world, it can generate its own development and foundation for infrastructure. This is the change, it's happening.

Read this: Obama 'plays catch up' in Africa

But I really admire the governor for his courage to say in his article that "we need to compete with China." This is something I see as a very bright point in his article because I think eventually African people should be confident enough to stand up, to compete with any country of the world. Without that kind of competition Africa can never develop itself and I always say that there is no loser in this competition; everyone benefits from this kind of competition because this competition means development.

I think the same thing will happen in Africa. I'm glad to see that; our opportunity is to help them to compete with us, to help them win this competition. That's the future; it's called a win-win situation.

CNN: So what does China want from Africa?

ZJ: We want a more prosperous world; without that China cannot develop itself. What the more prosperous world means is to lift this continent out of poverty. Repeat what happened in China; [a] repeat [of] what happened in China benefits Africa, and China itself will also benefit from that.

Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
January 6, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Commuters aboard an overloaded passenger train 03 February 2004, celebrate after arrival at the train station in the centre of the capital Nairobi.
A $5 billion Chinese-funded railway project in Kenya could transform transport in east Africa.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
A new report praises South Africa's economic transformation since apartheid. But enormous challenges remain.
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Landlocked Burundi is looking to compete on the international stage as one of Africa's most prestigious coffee producers and exporters.
November 22, 2013 -- Updated 1718 GMT (0118 HKT)
zword app zombies
From zombie spelling games to walking snails, Africa's mobile gaming industry is taking off across the continent from Uganda to South Africa.
November 8, 2013 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Ethiopia is turning to renewable energy technology as the East African country looks to become a powerhouse for its regional partners.
November 13, 2013 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
Animated cartoons are helping Kenyan companies to engage with audiences and lure international investors.
November 4, 2013 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Downtown Johannesburg -- once a no-go zone riddled with crime -- is undergoing urban restoration.
October 16, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Using helicopters and night-vision, crime syndicates are taking rhino poaching to a new level and conservation parks are struggling to keep up.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.