John B. Sesay
From the perspective of her engagement with countries in the Southeast Asian pacific, Sierra Leone has had extremely excellent ties with a number of countries in the Region. This is particularly so during the tenure of the country’s present leadership, following very closely, the footsteps of the late President Siaka Steven.
A reason for this recent surge in ties between Sierra Leone and China could be that the APC party appears to have buttressed further, bonds of friendship with China’s Socialist Party. In fact, following the post Siaka Stevens era and more especially when the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) brutally overthrew the APC in 1992, the Sino-China relations both at the People-to-People and Ambassadorial levels, it is said, defrosted though fleetingly. The tenderness returned to 1971 levels only following the return to office of the APC under the leadership of His Excellency President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
The era of President Ernest Bai Koroma, it should be noted, has actually witnessed a phenomenal rise in the relationship between the two republics. In fact President Ernest Bai Koroma, in a 2016 interview told me how, in his view, the relationship between the two nations has not been “just one sided” but “has been mutually beneficial.”
Building on these ties also takes into account the crucial roles the country’s Envoys accredited to China both past and present have individually and collectively played. For instance, as we mark forty-six years of cooperation with China, we have seen how the current Head of Mission, Madam Kumba Momoh has called for a new approach to our development cooperation asking for a shift from the traditional form of diplomacy.
Today, we are shifting the trajectory from the known traditional diplomacy to constant and fruitful engagements in areas of economy, military cooperation, culture and the rest.
There also has been the crucial engagement with the private sector as a pillar in our drive towards better ties of cooperation. The appointment by President Koroma of persons of proven merit and ability to our missions and with specialties in military engagement and trade/investment and culture is a clear manifestation of the shift in diplomatic engagement and the seriousness of the country to yield fruitful dividends in all areas.
As Press and Information Attaché, having worked with a number of Ambassadors, I still have fresh memories of how, they all have contributed to the surge in ties between our peaceful nation and China. An essay on the Sino-Sierra Leone cooperation will not be complete without reference to their wonderful roles.
For instance, the era of the country’s current Vice President, Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh who worked relentlessly and left an indelible mark in terms of lifting the bars of cooperation ties not just with China but other Southeast Asian nations. His period in China (February 2013- March 2015) was phenomenal, with huge results. He left with us, members of the Sierra Leone Mission in Beijing, a number of his successes, amongst them, heightening the level of political diplomacy between the governing party in Sierra Leone and the Communist Party of China.
During his tenure, he assured President Xi Jinping of working towards further strengthening the long cordial relationship between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the All People’s Congress (APC). This he did.
During his presentation of credentials and the recall of his predecessor, Ambassador Foh’s commitment of Sierra Leone’s readiness to always stand by China, especially on the ‘One-China’ policy was touching.
It was at the said event that President Xi spoke of how Ambassador Foh’s appointment by President Koroma was a demonstration of the level of importance Sierra Leone attaches to China given Foh’s high standing in the ruling party. Political diplomacy, as it is with economic and other diplomatic channels, remains strategically high in China’s engagement with nations.
Ambassador Foh pursued calls for the use of people-to-people diplomacy as a tool in achieving the dream of upsurge in relations with China and he successfully worked closely with the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) in this direction. He successfully opened up the Mission, decentralized its activities with our presence felt in some regions through constant engagements with investors.
His engagement with the Chinese private sector, encouraging them to explore his country’s opportunities of growth and investment took centre stage of his diplomatic spell. His role in the opening of the APC Asian Branch was also resounding, a political decision that was helpful in building on the political diplomacy between the two nations.
Same could be said of his diplomatic engagement with a nation like Vietnam. By September 2014, we were to fly to that country where Ambassador Foh had gone to present his Letters of Credence to President Truong Tan Sang. That singular event also helped in sustaining the ties between the two countries. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, it should be noted, is amongst 11 (Eleven) countries to which the Sierra Leone Embassy in Beijing is accredited to, and both nations entered into diplomatic ties on June 24, 1982.
At that ceremony, Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh called for the need for both nations to work towards strengthening their cooperation to a higher level, especially in the area of agriculture and food security, further exploring all areas of development cooperation. President Truong Tan Sang was to later congratulate Sierra Leone for recording very satisfactory growth rate over the last two years.
Finesse, writes Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux in ‘the DYNAMICS of DIPLOMACY’ “is required to handle complex international issues in a foreign cultural environment, using a different language and dealing with very different modes of behavior.” looking therefore at Ambassador Foh’s spell in diplomacy, one will conclude, that his tenure was largely much of a success as it was during period as Ambassador to PR China that gave warmth and prompt response to Sierra Leone to eradicate ebola, indeed an exceptional comradeship displayed by PR China.
His presentation of Sierra Leone’s position on geopolitical issues like the ‘One-China’ policy and his interventions on issues around African Group of Ambassadors within the FOCAC framework were all exceptional. His diplomatic finesse remains stunning, as we continue to see in his present international engagements whenever directed by the country’s leader, President Ernest Bai Koroma, to handle issues on his behalf.
His engagement with the CPC through the Deputy Director-General, Bureau of African Affairs, International Department of the Central Committee Communist Party of China (CCPC) helped in ensuring a working framework between the APC and CPC.