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Learning from China, Malawi seeks growth

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The arrival of China on the global stage would seem to have ambushed African countries. And developments around its appetite for our natural resource wealth in Malawi and on the continent will raise eyebrows as to who gains the more from these relations. But China isn’t short of inspiration, as SYLVESTER NAMIWA of the State House Press Office reports

Comprising a combination of grassland, deserts, mountains, lakes and rivers and a 14,500-km coast line, China is a booming economy that is putting the world under siege, literally.

Its total population is estimated at 1.4 billion translating into the highest population density in the world of 145 people per kilometre, although the country is the fourth largest country after Russia, Canada and USA in terms of size.

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The People’s Republic of China’s GDP is pegged at $9.24 trillion.

That is, China has all within its make up that has earned it the description that it is a world trade hub.

This is why the country is a source of confidence to many developing countries, an inspiration of the possibility of rising from poverty to prosperity.

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It is against such a background that Malawi government ma d e a controversial decision in 2008 to switch ties from Taiwan to Mainland China.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Of relevance now, however, is the fact that Malawi and China are in good relations and the leaders of both countries insist the relations are for the benefit of both countries.

During President Peter Mutharika’s recent visit to China, his counterparts there renewed their “win-win and inclusive development support to Africa” and other developing nations around the world.

They underlined their interest to partner Malawi in the pursuit of her development ambitions.

In his keynote address marking the official opening of the World Economic Forum which Mutharika attended, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said China did not begin big and with a bang as some would think.

That is why it is interested in small steps, he suggested.

“China is a source of confidence to many [but] its success started very small. This is why we are changing our focus to promote entrepreneurship, skills training and mass production. We pledge continued support to Africa and other developing countries,” he said.

Li advised developing countries to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for them to be able to attract joint ventures that would in turn translate into economic growth.

With reference to its progress, China has often been described as the world’s second largest economy after US’s.

But Li begs to differ – whether out of modesty or just keeping to facts.

“China invested alot in innovations, entrepreneurship and production for export. Today China is a middle economy which is heading to a big economy through entrepreneurship,” Li said.

He said China still had many of its people living in poverty in rural areas.

Middle economy or not, China still presents enough lessons for a country like Malawi which has been stuck in the rut of poverty for too long.

President Mutharika says his administration’s community colleges initiative, for example, is a response to the need for Malawi to drive out of poverty through entrepreneurship under which China has progressed.

During the visit, Mutharika held bilateral talks with Li.

“We discussed the relationship between China and Malawi. We talked about increasing trade and investment and China is prepared to do so,” Mutharika said.

Other areas in which China pledged support include infrastructure development, education, health and capacity building.

And speaking during a televised session cast live on CNBC-Africa of South Africa which was part of the World Economic Forum, Mutharika said his government has stepped up efforts aimed at transforming the country into a more skilled and export-oriented economy.

“China took a pragmatic approach by focusing on rural development. We are doing the same in Malawi. We have decided to embark on massive skills training for the youth in rural areas,” he said.

Mutharika envisions a Malawian society where people are happier than they were before, people with better incomes, good houses, good roads and better services.

The visit also gave Mutharika an inspiration for Malawi’s agriculture, the bastion of this country’s economy.

At the start of the visit, the Malawi president had a meeting with Liaoning Provincial governor Chen Qiufa who detailed the achievements of his province in the area of agriculture.

Chen said his province can be a crucial partner to the Malawi government’s vision of investing in irrigation farming.

The annual production of grains in the province amounts to a staggering 20 billion kilogrammes. The province is one of the industrial bases for China.

“We therefore believe we are a better partner to Malawi’s development efforts,” Chen said.

Apart from agriculture and industrialisation, the province is also making heady way in the areas of higher education and research.

The province has over a thousand institutions of higher learning and research, according to Chen.

Throughout his several other meetings with Chinese government officials, Mutharika got one inspiration after another.

Out of those meetings, he learnt tricks that he felt Malawi needed to unlock its economic potential.

That said, it is noteworthy that some individual Chinese visiting out borders will push the boundaries of law.

Since China appeared on the scene, there have been scores of cases of Chinese nationals being involved in illegal dealings most of them in connection with our natural resources, especially wildlife.

That puts the relations between the two nations on test. It raises questions as to who gains the most.

But one would want to see such teething problems worked out so that the win-win relations that are being preached are true to the word.

Better still, one would want Malawi to invest in reforming its policies and legal frameworks to tap into the economic potential that China offers.

When that is done, it will be upon Malawians to seize the opportunity that the China relations offer.

Which is why in his summing of the trip, Mutharika asked Malawians to “work hard, exercise a great deal of patience and desist from negative thinking” if the country is to develop.

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