Ghana and the Vexing China Question

Ghana and the Vexing China Question

Ghana’s diplomatic relations (est.5th July, 1960) with China hit the fifty year mark on the 5th of July, 2010. Of all the countries that the Chinese Foreign Ministry website lists under the Africa region the Ghana-China nexus predates all. Egypt, Morocco and Algeria (listed in the North Africa region) are the only countries with longer ties than Ghana.  Dr. Kwame Nkrumah visited China in 1964(China’s Premier Chou Enlai visited Ghana in 1964) and in 1966. Dr. J.B. Danquah , the doyen of Ghanaian politics and one of her impeccable intellectuals had engaged in cerebrations on whether there existed cultural, linguistic and artistic links between Ghana and China in antiquity.

In the last thirty years China has emerged as a global economic and political colossus posting impressive GDP growth rates of eight per cent on average in the period.   China’s foreign exchange reserves valued in excess of $3 trillion currently is the largest in world. Major global companies have established their R&D and production facilities in China. China was Ghana’s largest investor  in 2007(still held the record in 2011 ) and in Africa as a whole China’s investments have spiked in recent times. These are some of the facts. How should Ghana interpret, leverage, and utilize these facts to advance her national interests primarily and to ensure a win-win situation ultimately in her economic and diplomatic relations with China? Answering this query has become even more urgent given the concerns raised by the Ghana United Traders Association(GUTA) about the burgeoning presence of Chinese traders in Ghana’s retail sector, the trade deficit in favour of China and the myriad of socio-legal questions arising as relations between the two countries deepen .  A fitting response to this query lies firmly and indisputably in the arena of policy formulation to which I turn.

Ghana’s relations with China at the policy level seem to display a pathology undergirded by ambivalence, gestures, restraint and even fear. This is reflected rather markedly in the last few years during which Ghana has emerged as a relatively stable, democratic polity. That policy consistency in Ghana generally has been undermined by political instability is beyond question. The democratic dispensation post 1992 however offered a modicum of political stability germane for crafting national policy focused on producing significant quantitative and qualitative deliverables over longer time horizons. With specific reference to Sino-Ghana relations this era of political stability in Ghana was concurrent with an economically buoyant  and ascendant China.  This peculiar concatenation of events offered a rare policy window for Ghana’s policy subsystem to formulate a comprehensive Ghana-China Policy Document (GCPD). It is not farfetched to suggest that ambivalence on Ghana’s part ensured that this did not happen. The corollary of this is that no publicly identifiable policy document (well thought out documentation on Ghana’s basis, values, goals, timelines and mechanisms for engaging China) exists. What passes for Ghana-China “policy” are gestures (reflected in visits by top Ghanaian state officials to China and vice versa; loan agreements such as the $3billion Chinese loan and some infrastructural projects such as the Bui Dam, stadia for the 2008 African Cup of Nations and now the construction of Ghana’s foreign ministry building) which at best have symbolic significance and often times produce some material spin-offs. Policy must be coherent and to the extent that gestures cannot produce such coherence ambivalence (weighted in disfavor of Ghana) have tended to characterize Sino-Ghana relations. It is difficult to decipher what key goals specifically over the long term and with enduring positive impacts Ghana seeks to pursue beyond traditional concerns such as the one China policy, fraternal goodwill, south-south co-operation and piecemeal economic, technical and educational benefits that are undermined in the long run because they are not driven by a strategic focus anchored actively on national development priorities.

The governance/democracy narrative which lies at the heart of Ghana’s relations with the IFIs  and bilateral partners in the West has tended to restrain, constrain and condition Ghana’s relations with China. Ghana has positioned herself as a democratic polity(rightly so) in the international political economy on the basis of her democratic credentials. On the then Sudan (Darfur), Zimbabwe and Angola China has been publicly condemned for refusing to conflate commerce with political questions (human rights).    In order to keep her democratic image intact and the inflow of donor funds it seems Ghana has sought solace in self censorship regarding her dealings with China to the detriment of elaborating an independent, pragmatic China policy. In 2000 China launched the Forum on China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC). The last FOCAC (summit meeting) was held in Beijing in November 2006. The FOCAC has emerged as the foremost framework through which China and African nations discourse and strategize on pressing socio-economic and political issues facing Africa and the wider world. In January 2006 China released its Africa Policy Document. It is clear that China has offered the basis and framework for her engagement with African countries. Using these as benchmarks Ghana needs to formulate a China Policy document as matter of grave urgency for the following reasons inter alia:

– To provide the needed clarity, focus and coherence for Ghana’s engagement with China.
–  To define the principles, values and basis for Ghana’s relationship with China. This is important in respect of Ghana’s engagement with other bilateral and multilateral partners. For Ghana-China relations the conduct of both parties will judged by these standards.
– To elaborate and define the core areas/sectors that Ghana considers of top priority strategic importance in her relations with China and to construct the mechanisms for co-operation in these areas.
– To signal to the Chinese that Ghana takes its relationship with China seriously and seeks a two-way relationship that is mutually beneficial to both countries.
–  To provide an empirical and legalo-regulatory framework for handling misunderstandings, potential conflicts and strengthening and improving bilateral relations between the two countries.-   To allow Ghana to have clear guidelines for positioning herself strategically in a reconfigured world in which China undoubtedly is playing a key part.

To my mind the question I have ruminated on is a diptych bearing on the philosophical and the technical. Does Ghana need a China policy? It has a subtext. So Ghana cannot see the writing on the wall? Where the world is headed? Where her competitors even in Africa are headed? South Africa (SA) has one of the most comprehensive China Policy Frameworks on the continent. It established diplomatic relations with China on 1st January, 1998. Thirty- eight long years after Ghana. Every year the number of scholarship students from SA to China increases by three. Check the Ghana side. South Africa and China have an engaged, strategic, Bi-National Commission  which meets regularly (italics, bold face mine!!!). The premises and the overriding necessity are thus laid out for fleshing out the content of the Ghana’s China policy.
The issue of technicalese touches on a broader issue: Ghana’s policy subsystem. It exists? Okay it does. A better question: who drives it? Ghanaians or others? Is it nimble, dexterous, adaptive, timely and appropriately tooled? Where are the key points? Do they interface? How so if so? More questions? The Pandora’s Box is open. The genie is out. On a philosophical note from Confucius’ home: Talk does not cook rice. Ghana’s sages also provide useful wisdom in the view that : “Woforo dua pa a, na yepia wo” (to wit “When you climb a good tree, you are given a push.”). From the years of Deng Xiaoping, through Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao Ghana has not had a documented China blue print. With Xi Jinping set to take power in China this year will Ghana still deal with this new generation of China’s leadership with the same adhockery?

(Lloyd G. Adu Amoah, Ph.D, is an assistant professor at Ashesi University and the executive director at Strategy3, a strategy and public policy research and advocacy think-pad based in Accra)