Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari received little media attention during a recent visit to China but the trip could ultimately prove critical in advancing bilateral relations.
The increasingly close ties between the two countries could also have profound implications for the geopolitical landscape in West Africa.
Ask any executive of a large Chinese state-run enterprise that operates in that part of the world and you’re likely to get a positive feedback about Nigeria.
Even though the country is poor, underdeveloped and politically volatile, it has enormous potential for growth.
It also provides Chinese companies an awful lot of business opportunities.
As the most populous country and largest oil producer in Africa, Nigeria is a key market for Chinese products, particularly daily commodities.
Nigeria is China’s second largest export market in Africa, accounting for 8 percent of exports to the continent.
Also, the country is the largest overseas buyer of Chinese-made motorbikes, importing more than one million units from China each year.
Nigeria was the first African country to add the renminbi to its basket of foreign exchange reserves.
In return, China imports billions of barrels of crude oil from Nigeria annually.
The fact that China and Nigeria have complementary advantages and can provide each other exactly what each of them needs explains why Abuja prefers Beijing to western partners.
In recent years, China has stepped up investment in Nigeria.
As of 2015, the two countries had US$77 billion worth of infrastructure investment contracts.
China is helping Nigeria build railways, harbors, dams and power plants.
It has built free trade zones in Lekki, a city in Lagos, and in Ogun state.
During his Beijing visit, President Buhari signed agreements with the Chinese government to set up more free trade zones.
Still, despite its growing trade and investment partnership with China, Nigeria is not putting all its eggs in one basket.
One reason Abuja is so eager to develop relations with Beijing is that President Buhari believes stronger ties with China will not only benefit his country economically but also give it some leverage with western powers over such issues as counter-terrorism, foreign aid intelligence sharing.
Nigeria badly needs military and financial support from the West to fight domestic terrorists such as the Boko Haram.
When dealing with great foreign powers, the Nigerians hedge their bets for their own interest.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 4.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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