Beijing, China – President Ellen Johnson has held bilateral talks with the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), His Excellency Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People.
According to a dispatch from Beijing, China, at the close of the discussions, three major agreements were signed between the two countries. They included an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement between Liberia and China for Bilateral Aid worth ¥300,000,000 (Chinese Yuan Renminbi) or approximately $47.35 million (United States dollars); Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption for holders of Diplomatic Passports from both countries; and an Agreement between the two countries on Maritime Program and Ship Registry.
Liberia’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, H.E. Dudley McKinley Thomas and China’s Foreign Minister, H.E. Wang Yi signed the three agreements on behalf of their respective countries as Presidents Sirleaf and Xi Jinping looked on.
Earlier, an elaborate ceremony including a Guard of Honor was on hand at the theater of the Great Hall of the People to officially welcome the Liberian leader to the PRC.
In her introductory remarks, President Sirleaf reflected on Liberia’s progress since her ascendency to the country’s highest office and outlined the many efforts that have been made to rebuild the country after decades of war and conflict.
She highlighted the country’s road to peace beginning in 2003 where it quickly reaffirmed diplomatic relationship with the People Republic of China.
“Since 2006, with the election of my government, we have been restructuring a country that had been totally destroyed,” the Liberian leader indicated, adding further, “We resolved the country’s large external debt through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, mobilized direct well over US$16 billion foreign investment, started the process of rebuilding infrastructure, restored multilateral and bilateral relationship and enhanced the processes of governance.”
She also pointed out that growth in the economy was very progressive and that Gross Domestic Product stood at 9.5 percent giving hope that Liberia would achieve its goal of becoming a middle income country by the year 2030. “The 2008 Global Financial Crisis,” she said, “slowed the process of investment operationalization and put pressure on Liberia’s main exports, iron ore and rubber resulting in a decline in growth to 5.9 percent.”
The Liberian leader also indicated that in early 2014, the devastating deadly unknown disease, Ebola, hit the country bringing all activities to a halt and driving growth down to little more than one percent.
Speaking further, President Sirleaf thanked President Xi Jinping and the people of the People’s Republic of China for responding to Liberia’s tragedy during the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease, noting that China gave the first substantive global response which helped to sound the alarm internationally by sending flights loaded with medical supplies and equipment.
She also acknowledged the posting of a contingent of the People’s Liberation Army with some civilians to build and operate a “state of the art” 100-bed Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) that was officially turned over to the Government of Liberia.
President Sirleaf informed the Chinese President that Liberia has developed a Post-Ebola Economic and Recovery Plan with Health, Education, Agriculture and Infrastructure as the four main pillars; with security as the enabling foundation.
She emphasized the building of a resilient health care system with the capacity to withstand any future health crisis. “An over-arching element of the plan is economic diversification and value addition,” President Sirleaf said, underscoring that Liberia is well endowed with national resources – minerals, forestry, marine, land and water for agriculture as well as petroleum potential.
The Liberian chief executive, however, said a major constraint to achieving the expected goals and benefiting from the regional market potential is infrastructure and capacity and encouraged Chinese investors to explore this great potential.
President Sirleaf said that Liberia continues to have strong relationship with the PRC and its support to the country’s development initiatives in areas such as agriculture, health, education, security sector reform and infrastructural development.
She outlined landmark projects undertaken by the Government of PRC in Liberia, including the Jackson F. Doe Referral Hospital in Tappita, Nimba County, University of Liberia Fendell campus, Monrovia Vocational Training Center (MVTC), University of Liberia’s Confucius School, the numerous undergraduate and graduate scholarships granted Liberian students to study in various universities in China. She also highlighted the work of the Chinese contingent’s engineering unit of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
As regards other projects including the construction of the ministerial complex and additional wings to the seat of the National Legislature, renovation of the Samuel K. Doe sports stadium, President Sirleaf appealed to President Xi Jinping to speed up the projects which have been long awaited by the Liberian people.
On value addition from iron ore to steel as proposed by Wuhan Steel, she committed Liberia to meeting with the company and moving forward as well as ensured the establishment of the Industrial Free Zone which has the potential for exports to other countries in the region, a potential that would be facilitated by a coastal highway working with funds already placed by PRC in the World Bank for such purpose.
President Sirleaf highlighted the poor state of the Roberts International Airport and asked for China’s support to the project. She also requested support to the Mano River Union to ensure regional integration through interconnectivity in infrastructure.
She assured China of counting on Liberia as a partner and friend in international relations and reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the “One China Policy” and reform of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council.
Responding, PRC President Xi Jinping made a number of support commitments to Liberia, expressing the hope that both countries can see what he calls “early harvest” in meeting the commitments.
He expressed his satisfaction about the acquaintance with President Sirleaf and welcomed her to the Great Hall of the People. “You have vigorously promoted Liberia-China relations since you took office in 2006 and your visit at this time represents a new starting that must be taken to a new height; we are ready to work with you,” the Chinese President reiterated.
PRC President Xi Jinping acknowledged the Liberia leader’s great success as the first elected female President of Liberia and Africa and praised her for demonstrating great courage and leadership against the Ebola virus disease as the first country to be declared Ebola free.
He assured President Sirleaf that China will work with Liberia to extend political mutual trust and will work with the government for the benefit of the Chinese and Liberian people.
On the rebuilding of the Roberts International Airport, President Xi Jinping announced that a team from China will shortly visit Liberia to do a study on the scale of the project and the mode of funding in a speedy way and will, at the same time, accelerate the ministerial complex and the Capitol Building projects.
He also pointed out that work on the MVTC has been completed and that the facility will be turned over to the Government of Liberia very soon.
He assured that more practical cooperation measures will be announced at the upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in South Africa on December 4 and 5 respectively. He described the relationship between China and Africa and the FOCAC arrangement as a community of shared interests.
Making additional commitments, PRC President Jinping announced an increase in the number of bilateral scholarships from 15 to 40 annually, additional support to the UNMIL, Liberian security sector with training and equipment as well as more training opportunities including courses to handle medical equipment, support to the building of resilient healthcare system and improved healthcare services overall.
He indicated that competent Liberian and Chinese authorities will stay in touch for the advancement of specific projects to help the Liberian situation.
PRC President Jinping thanked Liberia for its commitment to the “One China Policy” and for its support to reforms of the United Nations including the Security Council. He added that strengthened solidarity and cooperation remain the bedrock of China’s Foreign Policy.
He informed President Sirleaf that China will elevate the FOCAC Ministerial Meeting in South Africa to a summit level and therefore requested the Liberian leader’s attendance; a request that was accepted by the Liberian leader.