By Chrispin Inambao, recently in BEIJING Recently, China invited African journalists to visit, with the noble intention to deepen their understanding of the world’s fastest-growing economy, where phenomenal double-digit growth in various economic spheres has become the norm. Hearing the tales recounted by others about a specific geographic locale could in some cases turn out to be very different as to when one has the privilege to witness first-hand any particular area in the world we live in. As one of the invitees for the two-week visit to that great country inhabited by a hard working, sociable, generally warm-hearted populace, my previous perceptions about China, where 22 percent of the world population resides, will never ever be the same again. Of course some critics of the People’s Republic of China may ask how two weeks could so radically change a journalist’s perceptions about a “communist state”. My answer would simply be that how on earth could any critic worth his salt not take off his or her hat to the concrete fact that this country last year consumed over 50 percent of all the bags of cement produced in the world in 2005 due to phenomenal growth. Because Beijing will host the 2008 Olympics, China is presently upgrading and building new stadiums, sports facilities, subways and traffic management systems while at the same time giving a facelift to its road and railway infrastructure. A senior official in the organising committee said in one of the briefings that from last year until 2008, a record 1,8 million new jobs would be created. That is equivalent to Namibia’s population according to our official statistics from the last count. Building cranes dot the skyline of its cities and its rural settlements and construction is in full swing in Shanghai, where the world’s tallest building is being constructed. Upon completion in 2008 the 492-metre Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC) in the Lujiazui financial district would eclipse the current world record, as it would comprise a dizzying 101 storeys. Many foreign investors are interested in this project. China’s education system does not only produce graduates who are literate but who are also numerate, so we African scribes were told by one senior bureaucrat. And at a time when the world’s self-appointed policeman, the USA, has a record deficit running into trillions of US dollars, China on the other hand has foreign exchange reserves of US$818.88 billion plus the edge of having double-digit economic growth. According to World Bank criteria, China only needs US$180 billion in foreign exchange reserves but some economists are urging the country to cling to US$360 billion as a “safeguard” with the rest being invested more aggressively to finance strategic projects such as the development of renewable energy and others. This year alone it allocated billions of US dollars for infrastructure development in rural areas that would have tremendous spin-offs. This visionary scheme would definitely stimulate much needed economic growth in rural areas. Despite being accused of being a global leader when it comes to producing imitations of a myriad of consumer products including faking brands such as Rolex, Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Coca Cola, motor vehicle parts, cosmetics, China produces its own aircraft, locomotives, surgical equipment, produces its own buses, cars, trucks; it is nuclear-armed and is also making inroads by harnessing home-grown technologies. And the Chinese may argue who does not steal or who never ever stole the technology produced by others or who never ever imitated others at one stage or another. Anyway, to stray a little from China’s remarkable growth, these remarkable people took us to the Great Wall of China that among other natural and man-made landmarks such as the towering Pyramids of Egypt, the breathtaking Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the majestic Taj Mahal in India, the spectacular Grand Canyon in the USA is listed among the Great Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Wall of China, like other natural and man-made wonders is a must-see. On one of the tours we also had the privilege of visiting the idyllic Lovers’ Forest located outside the Anhui Golden Peacock Spa Holiday Village where our hosts from that region’s foreign office were generous and availed us a host of civilised amenities. Also I cannot forget mentioning the sit-in where we sampled Chinese delicacies that included the sumptuous Beijing Duck served with abalone and other nourishing offerings plucked from the deep sea. The awesome Beijing Night Show, where aside from the theatrics, oriental cuisine was served was also another memorable event. During the show, Chinese performers with agile, athletic bodies displayed gravity-defying stunts and acrobatics on a stage that assumed so many shapes. During the amazing show jaws of some of the brothers flew open as the showmen executed seemingly impossible death-defying stunts as they toyed with swords. Our trip was multi-faceted. During a whirlwind tour of one of the giant construction companies, one of the African journalists wanted to find out if the reason why Chinese contractors involved in construction on African projects work during nocturnal hours was to safeguard their technology. But this perception was put to rest when a senior Chinese official tasked to address African scribes said this was not the case because construction of buildings is generally low-tech and in any case these builders are of the rationale that they encounter few distractions when they toil at night. An African journalist working in Botswana said even if this was the case, certain home-grown technologies take decades if not centuries to develop before being put to good use and that people should not expect to receive technology on a silver platter. Though the two dozen or so African journalists invited came from various African countries, I should also mention that the sharp-tongued Mohammed Kanneh, publisher of the Heritage newspaper in Liberia was the soul of our gathering as he was perpetually cracking jokes accumulated over a lengthy period in journalism. Lu Guozeng, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs briefed us on current affairs. During the short but highly enriching trip, Professor Li Xiguang the Executive Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University in Beijing gave us an academic perspective of how certain media practitioners working for highly-profit driven publications sensationalised their reporting on the SARS crisis in Asia. One of our hosts at the seaside holiday city of Quingdao was Xuefang Zhao from the Qingdao Municipal Foreign Affairs Office and others too numerous to mention.
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