A COMMENCEMENT SPEECH AT 89TH COMMENCEMENT 2009-2010 OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LIBERIA
H.E. MR. ZHOU YUXIAO
AMBASSADOR EXTRAORDINARY AND PLENIPOTENTIARY OF
THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 22, 2010
Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the
Republic of Liberia
His Excellency Vice President Joseph Boakai
Honorable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives
Honorable President of Pro-tempore and members of the Senate
Honorable Chief Justice and members of the Judiciary
Honorable Cabinet Ministers and governmental officials
Her Excellency Ellen Margrathe Loj, SRSG
Doyen and members of the Diplomatic Corps
President and members of the Board of Trustees, University of Liberia
Dr. Emmet Dennis, President, University of Liberia
Heads of Colleges and Universities
President of UL Students Union
2010 Graduates and students
Friends from the media
Ladies and gentlemen
It is my singular honor and privilege be invited to make a commencement speech and to be conferred an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Liberia, the most prestigious institution of higher learning on this land of liberty.
I attended three universities in China and Canada. But this is the very first time in my life to be conferred an academic degree by the President of a country. Today is therefore a historical and unforgettable date for me. I accept this honor with humility and pride and I wish to express my profound gratitude to Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia whose personal achievements have inspired me so much and to the University leadership and staff for recognizing my humble efforts.
I am very excited about the unique honor, but I am not carried away as I know full well that this graceful conferral represents Liberia’s recognition of the wisdoms and talents of the Chinese people and the contribution made by China to the postwar reconstruction in Liberia. I am accepting this honor on behalf of my government and people. As the Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “It is infidel for one to take but not to give”. I pledge to try my best to match your trust, respect, confidence. When I am given an inch, I shall give a yard in return.
It is also my great pleasure to join the graduates and their loved ones in sharing their joy and excitement at this very special occasion. I can imagine how hard it was to complete your academic journey during a postwar period. But you have made it and you are great. Let me solute you by saying: warm congratulations graduates 2010.
I also wish to commend the university leadership, professors and staff for producing quality students under very difficult conditions and let’s give them big applauds as well to show our appreciation and respect.
The University of Liberia had its glorious past as it was one of the best and oldest universities on the African continent. It cultivated so many great talents and minds not only for Liberia, but also for many African countries. I am confident that it will regain its past fame and prestige in the years to come for the following reasons: one, education has been listed as one of the priorities in Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy; second, the University has a dynamic and devoted leadership headed by its President Dr. Emmet Dennis; third, the students are eager to learn and contribute; forth, the international community has stepped up its support to the University.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to inform the audience that among all the institutions in Liberia, the University of Liberia is the biggest beneficiary of Chinese aid. This is because of China’s own experience which tells us that education can contribute immensely to social progress and economic development.
China has a long tradition of attaching great to education. Especially since the reform program carried out 32 years ago, the Chinese government has paid unprecedented attention to education. It adopted and popularized the concept of seeking national rejuvenation through science and education, drastically increased budget expenditure on education, urged all citizens to respect teachers and professors and encouraged them to study overseas to learn anything that is useful and applicable in China’s renewal and reform process.
As a result, tremendous progress has been made in China’s education. The enrollment rates have reached 99.5% and 98% at primary and at secondary education respectively. The student population at vocational training schools stood at nearly 19 million in 2007. Around 5 million well trained graduates from vocational schools are pumped into the workforce every year. The university student population drastically increased from 160,000 in 1978 to nearly 19 million in 2007. Now China produces 6 million University graduates annually. More than 1.6 million Chinese pursued their studies abroad in the last three decades. My daughter and I are two of them while my parents are illiterate farmers who do not know how to write their names. The change in my own family largely reflects the change in China’s educational situation and in its population quality.
The 2007 UN Human Development Index Report ranked China the 93rd place in economic development and 83rd in social development. This indicates that China’s social development, which is based mainly on education and healthcare, has been forging ahead faster than its economic development which is largely based on growth. Obviously education has become one of the principal factors fuelling China’s economic boom. I hope the practical Chinese experience could be of some relevance to Liberia’s current renewal efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I first came to Liberia, all the people I met addressed me “Your Excellency” or “Ambassador Zhou”. Nowadays, many call me “my friend”. Among friends, you don’t talk things phony. You share with each other what you have in hands and on minds.
It might be interesting for you to know that one of the most striking contrasts I have observed between China and Liberia is the difference in media terms. In China, the most frequently used word in media is production, such as grain production, poultry production, aquatic production, coal production, steel production, power production, TV production, computer production and so on. But I have seldom heard the word production in the Liberian media. As a foreigner, I can easily notice the huge gap between the richly endowed natural resources and the scarcity of locally made products. Liberia has plenty of arable land, but it does not produce enough food for its tiny population. Liberia has large rubber plantations, but it does not produce a sneaker or a tyre. Liberia has enormous iron ore deposits, but it does not produce a nail or a cutlass. Liberia has the largest forest in Western Africa, but it does not produce high grade furniture. These may explain the reason why the word production is missing in daily life.
There is an age-old Chinese saying: “One should live on water if he lives by water and on mountains if he lives by mountains”, meaning, one should make a living by utilizing the readily available resources around him or her. This is obliviously not yet the case in Liberia. I believe that inadequate production of commodities which led to underdevelopment was, to a large extent, due to the chronic lack of well-trained scientists, technicians and skilled workers. It would be unfair to blame the educational institutions for the failure which was caused by so many factors, but it is certainly fair to say that educational institutions can and should play a major role in addressing the issue and reversing the situation of limited production.
The hard reality requires Liberian educational institutions to reposition themselves by reforming their education philosophy, reprioritizing their efforts and redesigning their curriculums so as to be more responsive to the pressing need of postwar reconstruction and development. At this particular moment, they may need to focus on quality education in science and technology and produce more qualified engineers, architects, geologists, agriculturists, technicians and managers who are equipped with the technologies and techniques to turn Liberian resource advantages into development advantages.
I emphasize the necessity for educational institutions to facilitate production-oriented development because I strongly believe that real development is based on production. Development without production is just like building a house without a foundation.
The importance of production can never be over emphasized. Production can better utilize natural resources, enrich people’s lives and hence shake off poverty. Production can lead to industrialization and hence change the lopsided economy where raw materials are exported for finished products. Production can keep the active population positively engaged and hence bring about peace and stability. Production can consolidate democracy and improve human rights by generating jobs. Production can ensure sustainable development, self-sufficiency and national independence. Production of food and other strategic commodities can enhance national security.
In my humble opinion, education is all about empowering people to produce goods, services and ideas. I am a strong believer of the “cat theory” by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping who said that: “whether a cat is black or white in color, as long as it catches rat, it is a good cat”. By the same token, any educational institution that can turn out marketable, competitive, productive, innovative and ethically sound students is a good one. Those fail to do so should “reinvent the wheel”.
Should I be a narrow-minded nationalistic diplomat, I would not suggest that you emphasize production by utilizing your own resources because the less you produce, the more we can export. But that is not China’s foreign policy objective. China stands for common progress through win-win cooperation and it wishes to see Liberia as a land liberty, unity, stability, productivity and prosperity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
China-Liberia relations, which is based on equality, mutual respect and trust, have been growing steadily since the resumption of our diplomatic relations in 2003. Satisfactory results have been achieved in our bilateral cooperation in almost every field, particularly in the field of education.
As you all know that China’s foreign aid policy aims at providing “fishing capacity” rather than fish. That’s why we have chosen education as the priority area for Chinese assistance which has been focused on infrastructure and capacity building.
We have constructed a new university campus at Fendall, three schools in Monrovia and Bomi County and an Agricultural Technology Demonstration Center at CARI. We have renovated at old Fendall Campus three labs devoted to soil testing, computer science and civil engineering. We are also planning to build next year a large vocational training school at MVTC.
The Confucius Institute has been set up at the University of Liberia to train bilingual students. A team of five Chinese experts taught courses on agriculture and agricultural machinery in BWI for four years. Five Chinese bamboo and rattan weaving artisans have been teaching the unemployed youth on how to make bamboo and rattan products with local materials. More than 800 Liberians have been trained in China in short-term courses in the last few years. We have in recent years provided 120 government scholarships for Liberian students to study at Chinese universities. For the Tappita Hospital, my government has promised to train 25 Liberian medical and technical personnel in China and dispatch a team of technicians to work in the hospital and give on-the-job training for local technicians on how to operate and maintain the China-supplied medical equipments such as CT scanner and fiberoptic gastroscope and etc. All these programs are skill, production and development oriented.
Ladies and gentlemen
China is said to be the second largest economy in the world. However, as our Premier Wen Jiabao once rightly pointed out: “Any big achievement, when divided by 1.3 billion, becomes very tiny. Any small problem, when multiplied by 1.3 billion, becomes extremely huge”. China remains a developing country. Its GDP per capita is only around US$3,500 which is not up to 1/10 of that in most developed countries. In fact, it is even much lower than that in many African countries like Botswana and South Africa whose GDP per capita is around US$5,000--6,000. Therefore, what China can do for others is rather limited. But a friend in need is a friend indeed. China will continue to be Liberia’s reliable and supportive partner in progress by expanding collaboration in width and depth under the framework of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum.
I wish to extend my warm felicitation to you once again not just for your academic excellence, but also for the fact that your graduation comes at an exciting historical moment which is full of hopes, opportunities and challenges.
On top of the God-given advantages in natural resources which I mentioned earlier, you are also enjoying many man-made advantages. Now in Liberia, peace has been maintained, democracy has been established, freedom of speech has been ensured, foreign debts have been cancelled, the right to borrow has been regained, foreign aid and foreign direct investments have been attracted in billions, Liberia’s international environment has been markedly improved, tremendous efforts have been made to “Lift Liberia” by moving the country from dependency to self-sufficiency and turning the nation from poverty to prosperity. Liberia is ready to take off. Being a friend and an optimist, I envisage an economic boom in Liberia in the coming decade if peace and stability can be effectively maintained and the bottleneck of shortage of qualified personnel can be conscientiously removed. This is the period when you, the Liberian educated youth, can provide your invaluable services to your beloved motherland and demonstrate your talents, wisdom, determination, integrity and commitments as visionary future leaders.
It is peace that has made your university studies and degrees possible. I am sure that you have realized the importance of peace by now. Therefore, defend peace with valor unpretending. As future leaders, it is your paramount responsibility to make sure that you yourselves will not do anything to disturb or destroy peace and nor will you allow anybody else to do so. I wish to remind you that the peace we enjoy today is a bit superficial as it is kept by a foreign force, UNMIL. Do not take peace for granted. Your daunting task is to make sure that peace will stay after UNMIL’s withdrawal.
A great Ming Dynasty Chinese thinker Gu Yanwu said that “guo jia xing wang, pi fu you ze” meaning, “Every ordinary person is responsible for the rise or fall of his or her own country”. An airplane needs full steam when taking off. Similarly, a taking-off Liberia needs full support and dedication from all of its citizens, particularly the educated youth who should be the strongest engines of this thrust. It is a historic mission for the Liberian youth to uplift Liberia by working together tirelessly and selflessly with shared goals. “In union strong, success is sure”. Roll up your sleeves and tighten your belt to do the job you are called upon to do by your motherland at this defining and crucial moment. The late American President J.F. Kennedy once advocated: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. This could serve as a nice tip for new university graduates. The best way to provide leadership is to lead by example.
Going through university education was by no means easy for many of you. Finding a desirable job could be more difficult under current circumstance. The road ahead of you might not be as rosy as you once dreamed. Should you run into difficulties, do not give up easily. Fight another battle bravely. You will come out of it stronger and more matured and realistic. Liberia was destroyed in 14 odd years. Reconstruction always takes longer than destruction. During this healing period, one may still feel some pains caused by the destruction. Be strong, resilient and patient. It takes sometime for a child to become great.
The advantage of the educated youth is that you are knowledgeable, active, creative and courageous. These qualities should not only make you good lawyers and traders, but also good scientists, industrialists and managers who should be capable of turning your natural resources into processed products. As Madam President pointed out recently, “Liberia used to be rice exporter. Ships manufactured in Liberian shipyards carried commodities to Europe and the Americas. Ancient Liberian iron-mongers were forging iron tools and other metallic implements long before the industrial revolution in the West”. Since your ancestors could do these things in the long past, there is no reason why the educated youth can not do them in the 21st century when there are plenty matured technologies and available investments out there. I am confident that you will be courageous and ambitious enough to challenge your forefathers and overtake them.
In the information age, the skill of presenting ideas is very important. What is equally essential is the will and ability to implement. Getting things done is usually more difficult than talking. Therefore implementation merits more attention and efforts. Putting beautiful ideas on the table without putting them on the ground makes one an empty talker. It is in your personal and national interest to develop a result-oriented working ethics if you want to make a difference in Liberia’s way forward. I wish you ever greater success in the Long March that will commence tomorrow.
Madam President and Ladies and gentlemen
To avoid being an empty talker myself, I would like to announce a small donation of another 15 scholarships for UL science students, one for each county.
Thank you for your kind attention and wish all of you a merry Christmas and very happy new year.