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Q & A by H.E. Ambassador Hu Dingxian with the Lesotho Press
2013/01/14
 On Jan. 8, 2013, H.E. Mr. Hu Dingxian, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the Kingdom of Lesotho, held a New Year news briefing for Lesotho news media in the Embassy and answered their questions. The following is a summary of the questions and answers:

1. Radio Lesotho: We know that currently there are around 5,000 Chinese in Lesotho. As you've mentioned, they have brought the Basotho with employment opportunities. But they've also brought unfair competition by selling expired food and commodities in their shops. How do you comment on this?

Ambassador Hu: As I've mentioned in my remarks, China-Lesotho cooperation is not perfect. As you may know, wherever you go, there are good guys and bad guys. When you notice any bad phenomenon here in Lesotho, you should consider that as an individual case, which is not happening to all the Chinese here. I don't believe that all, or the majority of the Chinese here are selling expired food. The majority of them are good businessmen, abiding by the local laws and regulations, making their contribution to the economic and social development of Lesotho. What is important is that the government should implement stricter management and legislation. When you find any individuals violating the law or the practice here, just treat them according to your law. And then they will be more careful, not to repeat the same mistakes again.

I have asked some Chinese businessmen why they were selling expired food. Some told me that they did not do that out of intention. You know some of them own supermarkets with a vast variety of commodities. And the local employees usually do the monitory job by checking carefully to avoid shelving expired food. Sometimes, they fail to perform the duty.

I am not trying to argue for the Chinese doing business here. Whatever reason they have, selling expired food or commodities is wrong or against the law in the first place. As for the Embassy, we have always been educating our nationals here to abide by local laws and regulations, to respect the local people, to learn from each other and to respect your culture and customs. The majority of them are doing fine here. So when you encounter any bad case, please report it as an individual case, and avoid giving people the impression that all the Chinese were doing wrong things here. To make reports according to the facts is the responsibility of the media.

2. Lesotho Times: We've noticed that most the Chinese in Lesotho came here after the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) went into effect. What do you think will happen to the Chinese here after the AGOA expires?

Ambassador Hu: Of course, I sincerely hope this is not going to happen in the near future for the sake of African people. But if it did happen, I am afraid I could not tell you what to do and what would happen to those Chinese. As you know well, most businessmen work for profit. This is a universal rule. So, I think the government here should create a good environment to attract more foreign investors here. It is the government's responsibility to foresee the country's future, get ready beforehand, and make policies to guide foreign businessmen to invest in new fields. For the Chinese entrepreneurs in the textile industry here, they are doing their best to keep the factories running. The government and people should join hands to make them keep going on, as all are in the same boat now, otherwise it could become very difficult for them. Currently there are reports on labour disputes in the industry. In my opinion, it is understandable that the workers want higher wage, but you should always keep in mind that the wage level is based on a country's economic level and its productivity. If the expectation surpasses this level, it might lead the factories to collapse. So both sides, the factory owners and the employees, should consider each other's concerns, strike a balance, and find the best solution to keep things going.

3. Lesotho Times: What is your response to this charge that China is practising "neo-colonialism" in Africa? What exactly do you expect to get from this relationship?

Ambassador Hu: China's friendship and cooperation with Africa started long time ago, back in the 1950s and 1960s. Chinese people and African people are brothers in need, sharing with same historical experience and sufferings, supporting each other in their struggles for national independence and liberation. In the new era, this friendly relations have been renewed and enduring. China and Africa have launched a new type of strategic partnership featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges and mutual learning. I don't understand how this friendly, cooperative and mutual beneficial relations could suddenly become "neo-colonialism". I hereby ask you to think it over---- what is colonialism? In the old days, colonialists came here to rule you,enslave you and took everything away from you by force. And what is China doing here? We respect you, give you aid and help build much needed infrastructures, public utilities and so on. We do trade with you on an equal basis. It's true that China needs natural resources. So we buy, and we pay the suppliers on the price of the international market. What's wrong with that? I've mentioned in my remarks that China is trying to develop relations with the African countries on the principle of mutual respect, mutual benefit, and seek for common development. This is China's policy. We mean what we say. The African people know better than anyone else who brought harm to this continent and caused so many problems. The cap of "neo-colonialism" could not be put on China's head.

Those people say China comes to Africa for natural resources, but China is also here in Lesotho, where you don't have much natural resources. That is a groundless accusation. Why this accusation is there? Because some people are not happy with China's rapid development. They don't like to see a new competitor here. Concerning the natural resources, according to some foreign news report, in 2009, among China's total direct investment in Africa, only 29% went to mining sector, more than half of them going to manufacture, finance and construction sectors, etc. And China invests in almost all African countries, no matter whether they have natural resources or not. At the same year, nearly 60% of U.S. investment in Africa went to mining sector. And in the past 10 years, the trade volume with African countries on oil, China accounts for less than 10% of Africa's total export, while Europe and the United States account for over 30% separately.  If China's less than 10% makes it "neo-colonialism", what are those over 30%? By doing trade with China, the African countries are provided with more opportunities and better price. What's wrong for the African countries to sell their natural resources for their own development?

4. LTV: As the development of sports is the key element of the overall strength of a country, has there been any agreement between Lesotho and China in respect of cooperation in sports development?

Ambassador Hu. You are right. Sports play a very important role in a country's development. Yes, China is strong in many sports, including table tennis, badminton, gymnastics, swimming, just to name a few. However, at the moment, the cooperation in sports between our two countries is still weak. I've exchanged views with Hon. Maseribane, Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, about our future cooperation. We need to discuss to find out how to further promote the cooperation, as this need to been done through the governments. The Lesotho government may forward proposals to the Chinese government if you need China to send conductors or coaches to your country. This is one of the new fields of cooperation we are going to explore in the future. 

Lesotho also has unique advantages for the development of sports. The kingdom is high in altitude. It's good for training the athletes. Once you have improved the accommodation and facilities, you may invite more foreign athletes and sportsmen to come here for training.  This may become a new way to increase the country's revenue.

5. LTV: Lesotho is left behind in infrastructure building. This is an important disadvantage. In what way will China help Lesotho in this regard?

Ambassador Hu: It is true that infrastructure is important for a country's economic and social development. In China we have a saying or catch-phrase, "If you want to get rich, build the road first." For Lesotho where agriculture is a key industry, if the road condition is good in every village, in seasons of harvest the farmers can transport the farm products for sale on time. Concerning the cooperation between our two countries, China has helped Lesotho construct several infrastructure and public utility projects, including Butha-Buthe Industrial park, the National Archives and Library, the National Convention Centre, the New Parliament Building, etc. Currently, we have been working closely with relevant ministries of Lesotho to explore new areas and new ways of cooperation under the Framework of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), to find the priorities by focusing on enhancing the self-development capacity of Lesotho and bringing more benefits to the Basotho people. At present we have more than a dozen projects in operation. We need to do it step by step, and in a plan way. Although China is still a developing country, we will continue to help African countries including Lesotho within its capacity.

6. Public Eye: We know that most Chinese here are running their  own supermarkets.  It seems that Chinese here are creating job opportunities for themselves, instead of for us Basotho. How do you see this situation?

Ambassador Hu: I'm afraid you have got a wrong impression. I made a study tour recently, both to the north and the south of the country not long ago. During that trip I visited more than 20 supermarkets or shops run by Chinese businessmen. According to my discovery, one small to medium sized shop at least employs 5 to over 20 local people on average. I advise you to go and find out the fact for yourself, before drawing any conclusion. We also have more than ten companies from Chinese Mainland investing or doing projects here in Lesotho. As far as I know, these companies have employed more than 3,000 local people, while the total number of Chinese technicians and workers is only about 300. So we may say 1:10, meaning one Chinese creates about 10 job opportunities for the Basotho. For big project like the Metolong Dam constructed by Sino-Hydro, the company actually needs Chinese technicians and skilled workers, because they need to guarantee the quality and the time for the completion of the project. Most local employees were farmers and had no construction experience. It takes time for the Chinese companies to train them into skilled workers. And that is why we need some technicians and skilled workers from China.

Back to the Chinese small business, I understand that it has brought competition to some local businessmen. The Embassy has always advised and encouraged the Chinese nationals to upgrade their businesses to avoid competition with local people. But this change needs time and again needs the government policy to guide them to shift from retail to wholesale and other industries, to phase it out step by step.

7. Lesotho Times: You mentioned that China has expanded the variety of Lesotho products for duty-free export to China. Will China encourage its companies to open more factories in Lesotho, in order to manufacture more products to be sold in China?

Ambassador Hu: Yes. Last year, it was reported by local press that a Chinese company had signed the agreement with Lesotho side on establishing a wool factory here. Some other Chinese company have been assessing the possibility of exploring solar and wind energy in Lesotho. These are good for our two countries. But our current trade volume is really very small, with only an average USD$80 million every year. Lesotho has a small domestic market and it does not produce lots of products. China has offered almost free tariff for exports from Lesotho. Lesotho needs to do something to increase its manufactory capacity. You also have a good potential in agriculture. I heard that you used to be self-sufficient in grain 20 years ago. Why not now? China is importing wool and mohair from Lesotho now, and someday we are happy to see more Lesotho products in the Chinese market.

I mentioned that the economies of China and Lesotho are highly complementary in my remarks just now. China has financial resource and technology, especially when China is reconstructing the pattern of economic development and is focusing more on using advanced and new technology, under the current 12th National Five-Year Plan. Many Chinese companies are coming out for investment and market. I think this is a good opportunity for Lesotho if you can attract them here to invest, as this will create more job opportunities for the local people.

8. LTV: Does the Embassy have any suggestion on how to improve the cooperation between China and Lesotho regarding media and press?

Ambassador Hu:Media and press can play an important role in increasing mutual understanding between our two peoples and fostering favourable public opinion for China-Lesotho cooperation. As Ambassador, I was wondering why the local press is reporting so little about China. I think we need to explore ways to increase cooperation on news and information, to promote exchanges and mutual visits between Chinese and Lesotho journalists and press professionals, to exchange TV programmes and films, etc. The media and press in China are very much willing to cooperate with African countries including Lesotho, to share experience with them and provide with technical support. Recently, CCTV Africa was established in Nairobi, Kenya. It has put on a new one-hour programme called African Live every day. I hope this programmes could be watched by the Basotho people in the near future.

Finally, thank you for your presence and for your questions. I am looking forward to having more opportunities like this to exchange views with each other in the future.

Thank you!

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