By Amin Kef Sesay
In an interview that was recently conducted with the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone, Hu Aimin, related to the existing bi-lateral cooperation between China and Sierra Leone in addition to him making additional clarifications on some negative reports concerning that cooperation, The Calabash Newspaper started by raising the observation that since the beginning of this year, there seems to have been an increase of interaction between China and Sierra Leone, such as the signing of the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, the commencement of the rehabilitation of the National Stadium, the handover of a batch of vehicles, mobile clinics and solar lights.
The news medium continued that the China-aid Myohaung Officers’ Mess and Single Officers’ Quarters were commissioned yesterday and then asked: Why are the supports so massive and what is propelling them?
In his response, the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone, Hu Aimin, stated that China and Sierra Leone are time-honored reliable friends.
He furthered that the two countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations last year adding how during the past five decades, the China-Sierra Leone mutual cooperation has yielded remarkable fruits that can be seen everywhere.
“In recent years, this cooperation has been further expanded, enhanced and the projects you mentioned are some of the vivid examples of this cooperation,” he underscored.
Hu Aimin continued by stating that despite the negative influence caused by COVID-19, the Chinese side has been working hard with the Sierra Leonean side to actively implement the important consensus reached by H.E. Chinese President Xi Jinping and H.E. the Sierra Leonean President, Julius Maada Bio, during their meeting in 2018 and their phone conversation on May 7, 2021.
He said the projects mentioned in the interview are the practical results of the China-Sierra Leone friendship adding that the Chinese side will also hand over a batch of donated water bowsers and fire engines as well as a batch of agricultural machinery to the Sierra Leonean side very soon.
The Spokesman maintained how these are the concrete measures taken by the Chinese Government and People to help and support the Sierra Leonean Government and people in promoting economic development and mitigating the impact of COVID-19.
The Calabash Newspaper noted that the China-Sierra Leone Cooperation has achieved tangible results and there are hopes that other development partners will do the same. The news medium further stated that it has also noticed that there are some unpleasant reports about China-Sierra Leone relationship, citing an example of some Facebook posts from a certain Embassy in Freetown talking about a joint operation to bring illegal fishing into justice. In a picture it posted there was an affected fishing vessel flying Chinese flag. Besides, occasionally there are also reports accusing Chinese fishing vessels, mining companies and timber dealers of exploiting the local resources or maltreating their local staff. The medium then asked what would be his comment on those allegations.
Hu Aimin responded by stating how the Chinese side attaches great importance to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with Sierra Leone in various fields, including the mining, fishery and timber sectors which are also the main sources of income of the Sierra Leonean Government and People.
“The Chinese Government encourages and urges the Chinese enterprises and individuals in Sierra Leone to carry out win-win cooperation with their Sierra Leonean counterparts, abide by the laws and regulations of the host country and fulfill correspondent social responsibilities,” he said adding how the Chinese Government has zero tolerance to the acts and behaviors of any Chinese enterprises or national violating the laws and regulations of the host countries and supports the Governments of the host countries taking legal actions against any illegal activities.
He continued that the Chinese side has also put in place strict management measures to supervise the behaviour of the Chinese enterprises and nationals according to China’s laws and regulations.
“As far as I know, the overwhelming majority of Chinese enterprises and nationals here strictly abide by the laws and regulations of Sierra Leone,” he continued mentioning how many of the accusations or reports mentioned are either exaggerated or baseless furthering that some are hypothesis or even deliberately fabricated rumors.
He emphasized that of course, some are caused by ineffective communication and misunderstanding.
In relation to the fishing vessel mentioned, he said contrary to what was said in the Facebook post of the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone, it was not that the Chinese fishing vessel was conducting illegal fishing, but that the U.S. Navy forces conducted an illegal search and harassment on a Chinese flagged vessel which was operating with lawful permits from the Sierra Leonean Government in the waters of Sierra Leone.
“Some armed soldiers of the U.S. Navy under the excuse of joint military drill illegally boarded and searched the Chinese vessel,” he revealed stating how the Chinese fishing company suffered a heavy loss and the crew and staff of the vessel were put under gunpoint and suffered from physical and mental duress and impairment.
He continued that the action of the U.S. Navy personnel has not only violated the legal procedure and sovereignty of Sierra Leone as well as the international norms, but also severely infringed on China’s rights of jurisdiction over Chinese flagged fishing vessels.
The Chinese Spokesman intimated that their Embassy has lodged serious representations and a solemn protest to the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone.
“From this event, you can find that more than often, some people tend to call black white and use any opportunity to drive a wedge in China-Sierra Leone Cooperation,” he opined but said he believes that such acts will go nowhere.
According to him, the Chinese Government will continue to require and guide the Chinese companies and nationals in Sierra Leone to promote green and high-quality development cooperation.
He further highlighted how the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone will communicate and coordinate closely with the Sierra Leonean side in safeguarding the lawful rights of Chinese investors and punishing the wrong-doings of any Chinese companies or individuals should there be any.
When The Calabash Newspaper posed to him the question of: What is in the pipeline with regard to the next phase of China-Sierra Leone cooperation?
The Spokesperson stated that over the past 50 years, China-Sierra Leone mutually beneficial cooperation has made remarkable achievements. He said since 2018 alone, the Chinese side helped the Sierra Leonean side build or implement about 20 projects or programs, such as the construction of the second Juba Bridge, the Freetown 3.2 km Ring Road (from Limkokwing University to the Regent Village), the National Fiber Optical Transmission Backbone Phase II Project, the donation of 30 Garbage Trucks, the provision of around 9,000 tons of rice aid, the donation of agricultural machinery, the refurbishment of the Presidential Lounge at the Lungi International Airport, the donation of a VVIP convoy, the recruitment of hundreds of Sierra Leonean students under the Chinese Government scholarships programs and the persistent donation of urgently needed medical supplies, all of which brought substantial benefits to the Sierra Leonean Government and People.
He continued that besides, more than 10 other projects such as the Foreign Service Academy, the overhaul of the National Stadium, the upgrading of the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Hospital, the donation of more COVID-19 vaccines etc. are in good progress or in earnest discussion.
The Spokesman disclosed how the Chinese side will work closely with Sierra Leone to implement the outcomes reached in the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and actively promote cooperation with Sierra Leone under the Belt and Road Initiative.
He said the focus of the future cooperation will be on agriculture, health, education, capacity building, trade and investment, etc.
“We firmly believe that such cooperation will continue to enrich the cordial relationship between our two countries,” he asserted bringing the interview to an end.