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Religious Freedom Issues Loom Large as China and Nigeria Celebrate 50 Years of Bilateral Relations

02/10/2021 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Today marks the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations between China and Nigeria. Formally established on February 10, 1971, relations have expanded in recent years and have come to entail tens of billions of dollars in trade, investment, and development assistance.

China’s interest in Nigeria is part of a larger initiative across Africa more broadly. In 2019 alone, direct Chinese investment in Africa reached 49.1 billion USD while trade between Africa and China totaled $208.7 billion, according to the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria.

Nigeria provides China with its largest market for major infrastructure projects, with the country repaying China for its many billions of development assistance and loans by awarding Chinese companies large contracts to expand Nigeria’s critical infrastructure. Trade between China and Nigeria topped 19 billion USD in the year 2019.

Nigeria has dealt with significant internal violence for years, mostly at the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group and militant Fulani herdsmen. Tens of thousands have been killed or abducted by these two groups, and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced.

1,900 civilians and government employees were killed by Boko Haram and Fulani militants in 2020 alone, according to ICC analysis of the situation. Much of the violence is concentrated in Christian-majority areas of the Middle Belt region.

The United States sent $630 million in foreign assistance to Nigeria in 2019. This money funded a variety of programs targeting sectors such as public health, humanitarian development, and counter terror operations.

China has been criticized for what some consider to be its exploitive development tactics in Africa. The so-called Belt and Road Initiative, through which China is attempting to exert its influence across the world, is a centerpiece of the Chinese Communist Party platform and involves both infrastructure projects and the strategic use of loans to gain an edge in international relations. China has also faced international condemnation for its oppressive targeting of Uyghur Muslims both inside and outside its borders. In January, the United States declared China’s campaign against the Uyghurs a genocide.

In a recent open letter to President Xi Jinping of China, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari wrote that “China has found the successful development path” and celebrates what he calls “the all-round, wide-ranging, and high-quality bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and China.”

Later in the letter, Buhari affirms his support of the “one-China policy,” a slightly-veiled declaration of support for China’s disputed territorial claims over Taiwan and Hong Kong. Hong Kong has seen a severe deterioration of human rights and religious freedom since China reasserted control over the special administrative region in the summer of 2020.

The international community should be active in its opposition to the militant groups ravaging Nigeria’s northern and Middle Belt regions. Infrastructure is important, but Nigeria will never truly prosper without social stability. Short-term economic gain at the cost of lasting peace and security is damaging not only for Nigeria but for the rest of the world too.

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