At Talks with President Sirleaf on Strengthening Bilateral Cooperation, Chinese Vice Chairman Expresses Interest in Undertaking Energy, Mining and Other Projects in Liberia

Wednesday, 11th July 2012
President Sirleaf receives Mr. Zhang Xiaoqiang at the Foreign Ministry
President Sirleaf receives Mr. Zhang Xiaoqiang at the Foreign Ministry
Photo Credit: James M. Garresen, II/Executive Mansion

Monrovia, Liberia – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf held talks on Wednesday with a 10-member delegation from the People’s Republic of China, headed by Mr. Zhang Xiaoqiang, Vice Chairman of the National Development & Reform Commission, on strengthening bilateral cooperation between Liberia and China, particularly in the energy and mining sectors.

In opening remarks, President Sirleaf spoke of the progress which Liberia has made in the past six years, and of the foundations that have been laid during nine years of peace. It was time now to fast-track on the priority areas of job creation and infrastructure – of roads, power and ports.
The President spoke of Liberia’s strong relations with China, highlighting the efforts made by the three Chinese Ambassadors accredited to Liberia in improving bilateral ties, through development projects, scholarships and Chinese companies doing business in Liberia.

In his remarks, the Chinese Vice Chairman said he had come to exchange ideas on economic and trade relations with Liberia, and to take that relationship to a higher level, for the medium and longer term. He was interested in reaching agreement on priority areas for cooperation, and setting up solid working teams to quickly implement the agreed priorities.

He knew that Liberia has needs in virtually every sector, and China was ready to work with the government in meeting them. Among the urgent infrastructure projects, was the restoration of the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant. He said that China, a world leader in power generation, had produced 15 gig-watts in a single year, and was ready to work on a 64 megawatt plant. He proposed that the Liberian Government and China should sign the relevant documents for Mount Coffee as soon as possible and discuss financial plans for cooperation.

Responding, President Sirleaf said that in agriculture, the Chinese had provided assistance in the area of rice production at CARI; she wanted to see that project move quickly. There was already a Chinese company operating in the mining sector, and the sooner they could move the ore, the better for everyone. On energy, she said that there already is a partnership that is working to restore Mount Coffee.

That commitment covered only a small portion of the country’s energy needs. She therefore encouraged the Chinese to engage in the bidding process for the manufacture of the turbines that would be needed, and also to consider a partnership for phase 2 of the hydro project for upstream storage capacity. She called for a revival of the proposal for a special economic zone, where Chinese companies could manufacture goods and add value to primary products. All of these could come under an agreement with sub-sets, the President said, adding, “We are ready. Are you ready?”
Returning to the topic of the slow progress in getting the Mount Coffee project started, Vice Chairman Zhang said that because of the many demands, there was no time to hold negotiations that could take up to a year. He called for agreement on a priority project, like Mount Coffee, and to move quickly. He respected Liberia’s decision to bid, but that would take many months and would not solve the country’s power shortage. If the two governments and relevant institutions could reach agreement, China could provide financial support, as well as the experts, and after two years Liberia would have power.

Again responding, President Sirleaf suggested that if the Chinese would agree to look at phase 2 of the hydro project – with a capacity of up to 1,000 megawatts – then the talks could commence right away. She reiterated that the first phase already had four important partners, namely, the World Bank, the United States, Germany and Norway. She pointed out that any company could bid on the phase 1 turbines, and with Chinese companies already on the ground, they would be in a good position.

During the discussion, Vice Chairman Zhang announced that a Chinese company, China Union, will produce 1 million tons of Bong Mines ore by December, and 10 million tons by 2014. He also mentioned matters which, if addressed, would facilitate progress, such as the railway, port, resettlement and use of explosives.

The Vice Chairman also mentioned that another Chinese entity was holding talks with relevant ministries concerning the Wologisi Mountains, said to be the country’s largest mine reserves, and inquired whether that mining contract would be subject to international competitive bidding or by bilateral arrangements. He also mentioned an Enterprise Scholarships program, sponsored by China, which links training to job for Liberians.

The President replied that no decision had been made regarding method and other arrangements. Moreover, it would be up to seven years before any ore could be exported from that mountain range, she said, and so what was important for her administration was to see benefits in the next five years. She was therefore open to proposals.

Vice Chairman Zhang extended an invitation to the President to visit China when the new government takes over. President Sirleaf recalled reciprocal visits that had already taken place between the two governments, and said she would go again “to sign a big agreement.”-

Other members of the Chinese delegation were: Ambassador to Liberia Zhao Jianhua; Mr. Kong Linglong, Director-General, Department of Foreign Capital and Overseas Investment; Mr. Liu Hongkuan, Deputy Director-General, Department of Foreign Capital and Overseas Investment; Mr. Wu Congguang, Deputy Director, Department of Foreign Capital and Overseas Investment; Mr. Li Xuedong, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Cooperation; and staff of the Chinese Embassy near Monrovia.

Officials on the Liberian side included: Minister of Finance Amara Konneh; Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Edward B. McClain, Jr.; Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Patrick Sendolo; Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Lewis Brown; Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister for International Cooperation Chris Moore; and Head of the Program Delivery Unit, Gyude Moore.