SUBSCRIBE TO CHINA
When he first set foot abroad in 1973, Wei Jianguo, then 36, was dispatched to Casablanca to take a post in the Economic and Commercial Section of the Chinese Embassy in Morocco. His primary mission was the promotion of bilateral trade between China and Morocco, particularly the expansion of Chinese exports. Back then, agricultural products such as green tea and oranges composed the majority of Chinese exports to Morocco, followed by porcelain and light industrial products such as bicycles and office supplies.
One day, while welcoming the arrival of a Chinese freighter, Wei noticed that the Chinese ship was full of green tea, in contrast to a Japanese vessel loaded with cars, radios, and TV sets also anchored at the port. The numbers were even more shocking: The price of a whole shipment of Chinese green tea equaled just one Japanese car. That night, Wei couldn’t sleep, and resolved to encourage the export of Chinese mechanical and electrical products to Morocco.
Today, nearly 40 years later, China’s trade with Africa has developed to levels far beyond Wei’s dreams. As Wei worked his way up from an ordinary staff member at the Chinese embassy to the Vice Minister of Commerce responsible for Chinese trade to Africa, he witnessed a miracle: Bilateral trade volume between China and Africa skyrocketed from only US$1 billion in 1980 to US$91.07 billion in 2009, with Chinese products seen everywhere throughout the continent. As Sino-African business communication grows, increasing numbers of Chinese enterprises shift their focus from export to establishing factories in African countries, aiming to help improve the local capability to develop independently. All this is inevitably attributed to Wei Jianguo’s efforts.
Last year, Wei completed an autobiographical account of his years of work experience in Sino-African trade, naming it Africa: A Lifetime of Memories ¨C My Experiences and Understanding of Africa. Wei first engaged in foreign trade in 1972, and served at the forefront of Sino-African trade for the next 37 years. His book provides a thorough retrospective on the development of Sino-African trade over the years.
Trade between New China and African countries can be trace back to 1950, when China established business relationships with Egypt and Morocco, generating only US$12 million, or 1 percent of China’s total foreign trade volume that year. The first decades saw slow growth in the trade volume between China and Africa, with the yearly figure still below US$1 billion by 1992. Worried about the stagnant situation of Sino-African trade, Wei Jianguo, then deputy director of the Department of West-Asian and African Affairs of the Ministry of Commerce, headed a delegation to trek across the country. They assessed the general situations of different countries of Africa, explained how to do business with Africa and settle various trade disputes, and listened to opinions on trade with Africa from relevant local departments. Thanks to the subsequent series of policies and measures, China’s trade with Africa was put on the fast track.
Eight years later, in 2000, bilateral trade volume between China and Africa reached US$10 billion, and another eight years later, the figure soared past US$100 billion. “At present, China’s trade with Africa is growing faster than any other continent, at 37 percent.” Wei illustrated. “In the foreseeable future, the bilateral trade volume is expected to reach US$300 billion, and China’s trade with Africa will thus become a leading player in the country's foreign trade.”