THE only time I ever visited China was a stopover in Hong Kong after the former British possession had been given up to the People’s Republic.
We waited for some time at the airport, as the formalities were completed for us to continue our flight to Africa — don’t ask me why we stopped there, anyway.
These were exciting times. The Cold war had ended and there were many other developments to announce the advent of a new geopolitical era.
Communism had ended in the Soviet Union and with that had occurred a realignment of alliances.
There were a number of wars in the former Soviet states. China itself remained untouched, except that its old comrade-in-arms, the Soviet Union, had effectively abandoned communism for something not entirely capitalist, but definitely not communist.
Their alliance was effectively at an end, except perhaps in preventing the West from taking over all countries that had been aligned to them during the Cold War.
There were African states which had been considered “client states” of either the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic — or both.
Zimbabwe was a prime example: its liberation war had been jointly aided by the two communist giants.
The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic had had their differences, some serious.
In 1973, on a visit to the Soviet Union, I was the target of an anti-Chinese propaganda by the Soviets.
I was interviewed by a team from the State television network and asked leading questions about the “revisionism” of the People’s Republic.
I was in the country as a delegate to a meeting of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Union. I was coming from Zambia which had become independent from the British in 1964.
By then, the rift between the Soviet Union and China had become so intense the propaganda war had “no holds barred”.
I was to be interviewed by a very large, but rather pretty, chubby-cheeked reporter.
Her questions were intended to solicit the sort of response which would suit her purpose — a condemnation of the Chinese revisionism, which the Soviet saw as a betrayal of Marxism-Leninism.
Fortunately for me, I was immediately alert: I was in the country as a guest of the Soviet Union.
But I would be damned if, in return for their generosity, I allowed myself to be used as pawn in their ideological conflict with China.
Today, China and Russia — the largest component of the former Soviet Union — have an uneasy alliance in international politics: they do tend to vote together in the Security Council against proposals by the West, particularly on Africa.
But China has clearly outpaced Russia economically — it’s on the verge of emerging as the largest economy in the world.
Russia won’t be even the third largest. Even in Africa, China is Number One. What we may not be entirely sure about is its final objective — to “colonise the continent”, or to genuinely help it end its grinding poverty, which was brought about by white colonialism.
The Chinese, whose most well-known sages are Confucius and Mao Tse Tung, have had a patchy record in Africa.
In one country, they shot dead a number of African workers protesting against their working conditions.
But their overall reputation is one of helping Africa develop. But these lapses of concentration on the job in hand — to help Africa end its poverty — are frightening.
The use of lethal weapons to end industrial tension is eerily reminiscent of the white settlers’ habits.
The Soviets are racists in their own country — there have been incidents of football fans in the country insulting African players by throwing bananas at them: nobody can be unaware of what this suggests.
The Russians do it on their own soil. The Chinese have shot African workers in Africa. They ought to moderate their attitude towards the workers.
The struggle against colonialism started with the workers’ protests against working conditions.
It took time but the white settlers were eventually driven out of the continent.