Victor Sikonina was born to a Chinese father from Guangdong in south China who immigrated to Madagascar to work in the fishery industry. Life came full circle for the 75-year-old in 2002 when he was appointed Madagascar's Ambassador to China. Sikonina, who is also Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in China, talks to ChinAfrica reporters Jacques Fourrier and Cui Xiaoqin about China-Madagascar and China-Africa cooperation.
ChinAfrica : How has China-Madagascar cooperation developed?
Victor Sikonina: China replaced France to become Madagascar's [biggest] trading partner as early as the mid-1990s. Presidents, speakers of Parliament and procurators general of Madagascar have all been to China, together with a plethora of entrepreneurs and traders. Chinese state-owned enterprises flocked to Madagascar and developed businesses in various sectors: sugarcane, mining, fishing, road building and pharmaceutical products. I have personally contributed to clinching many of these deals.
Since 2007, the political crisis in Madagascar has dampened Chinese investors' enthusiasm and investments have been scarce. The investors have to take into account political stability and the safety of assets and people. Prospects for development are improving however. We are looking forward to organizing the Asia-Indian Ocean Trade Fair in Antananarivo in March 2016.
Which events in China have been important for Sino-African cooperation?
Shenzhou , China's first manned spacecraft, was a real turning point. Africans were deeply impressed and [realized] China could provide financial and technological assistance. From that moment on, China-Africa cooperation began to gather strong momentum.
With the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China underwent dramatic changes, especially in infrastructure building. [Another] turning point was 2010 [when] the Shanghai World Expo was held. Sino-African cooperation really picked up steam.
I would also like to mention China's fight against corruption. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are not only sincere and innovative leaders, but also have nerves of steel. The age of impunity is over and done with in China, be it in the economic, political or military sphere. China's leaders are convinced that China must clean up its act in order to gain people's confidence and move forward. We have to praise both leaders for this.
What are the key elements in China-Africa cooperation?
First, let's talk about the political element, because everything derives from it. We must acknowledge that Xi and Li are the most close-knit, dynamic and enterprising team of leaders in the world. From the point of view of diplomacy, it has to be noted that China's diplomacy is carrying weight and influence in the world. Never before has China been so ubiquitous across the world; in some respects, China's diplomacy even outranks that of the United States. We follow the United States out of fear, but we follow China out of interest. We want to be by China's side because there are economic benefits to be reaped, as well as development and financing opportunities; hence the success of China's diplomacy.
With China, there is no conditionality, no interference in internal affairs, but respect for the sovereignty and cultures of other countries; everything is geared toward economic endeavors.
Then there is the economic element. Xi and Li had the idea and inspiration for opening a large new market called the Belt and Road [Initiative]. Africa must send a strong signal for cooperation to China in order not to [have] China's financial interests [diverted] to other regions, especially after the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Africa must express its needs and its priorities in order to integrate Chinese resources into its development and avoid fragmentation. Priorities are determined by international concerns, most notably food security. If the world lacks food, Africa is cruelly lacking in food [too]. We need to reinforce agricultural development and investments in this sector and set up a well-capitalized fund with appropriate mechanisms. We want to demand the creation of a special fund for agriculture in Africa.
We are observing China's push for the relocation of its labor-intensive industries. How can Africa deal with the relocation of Chinese industries? It presupposes a few preconditions, such as infrastructure building, roads, electricity, ports, etc. A lot needs to be done in this regard.
There is also Africa's desire to demand more added value-oriented Chinese trade in Africa. Traditional trade has never made Africa rich. We don't want a sole trade in raw materials; we want the creation of added value. That's industrialization. What are the conditions for such industrialization? These conditions are market-driven, but they are also determined by local conditions of production, human resources training and technology transfer.
Environment issues are also a matter of concern for us. It is my view that we need strong binding conventions, but I would also like to point out that if pollution plagues us, it is not because of China, where development spans a 30-year period. We need to look at history and learn about who polluted first. If we accuse China of being the world's first polluting country, we talk about today. But before, wasn't it Europe? Wasn't it the United States? Binding measures need to be adapted, not generalized, and need to take into account history and the historical context.
Health is also an important issue. Malaria is Africa's first cause of mortality by infectious diseases. There hasn't been any international mobilization to fight malaria because developed countries are not affected.
What are your expectations from the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Summit?
The Johannesburg Summit will be a landmark summit and we will assess China's willingness and commitment to Africa. We can expect that China will preserve its long-time cooperation ties with Africa, and that China will seize the political initiative; more importantly, China will take action from an economic and a security perspective. I think China will probably increase its cooperation with African countries in maintaining peace and security in Africa. Chinese are already engaged in the Gulf of Guinea, the Gulf of Aden and off the coasts of Somalia.
I also expect a great deal of innovative spirit, a great deal of creativity as well as some bold proposals from President Xi, together with major breakthroughs toward reinforcing or at least maintaining China-Africa cooperation.
I would also like to praise the country organizing the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit. South Africa demonstrates its capacity as a power to organize a major international event, to mobilize resources and to guarantee the security of participants.