Members of a Chinese medical aid team communicate with local medical workers in Juba, South Sudan, on August 21, 2020 (XINHUA)
The year 2020 is of special significance in world history and the history of China-Africa relations. The global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented test for the world’s public health system, globalization and international cooperation. In a year that also marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China-Africa solidarity in fighting the pandemic together has added to the legacy of their friendly cooperation, and represents a big step toward forging a closer China-Africa community with a shared future. Looking ahead, China and African countries need to continue to work closely in the areas of health and economic recovery, and leverage the opportunities expected to be brought by the upcoming Eighth ministerial meeting of FOCAC in Senegal in 2021.
Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Africa have stood together and supported each other in fighting the pandemic, as well as promoting multilateral cooperation. This reflects the unshakable bond between China and Africa that has made sure we can share weal and woe and fight for common goals in this difficult year. Wuhan in central China was the first city to be hit by COVID-19 early this year. African countries spared no effort in supporting China’s fight against the epidemic. Egypt, South Africa and other countries provided China with anti-epidemic supplies. Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti, which are among least developed countries, generously donated $2 million and $1 million respectively to the Chinese Government. Leaders of African countries sent messages of condolences and support to Chinese President Xi Jinping. After the 36th AU Ministerial Meeting, a special communiqué expressed the union’s confidence in China’s victory in the fight against the epidemic, and called for more international anti-pandemic cooperation.
When the pandemic hit Africa, China also rushed to help the continent, shipping medical supplies, dispatching teams of medical experts, providing training and sharing prevention and control experience. In total, China has delivered medical supplies to more than 50 African countries and the AU, and sent more than 170 medical experts to 15 African countries. Video conferences were held with African countries, where experience gained in China was shared. More than 40 medical aid teams in Africa have carried out nearly 400 training sessions and trained more than 20,000 local health workers. China’s non-governmental organizations and Chinese companies in Africa have also provided their help.
At the international level, China called on the international community to provide greater support to Africa and took the lead in taking action. For example, at the 73rd World Health Assembly held virtually on May 18, Xi announced five measures to help with global response to the pandemic. These included providing funding of $2 billion over two years for affected countries, debt service suspension for the poorest countries, setting up of a global humanitarian response hub in China, and providing vaccines as global public good. Particularly for Africa, China will establish a cooperation mechanism for its hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals.
China-Africa solidarity was visible again at the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 held on June 17. Apart from Chinese and African leaders, the summit was also attended by UN Secretary General António Guterres and World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as special guests. At the summit, China and Africa conveyed to the world their belief in jointly fighting the pandemic. In the joint statement issued at the summit, China and Africa reaffirmed their commitment to supporting multilateralism, opposing unilateralism, safeguarding the UN-centered international system, and defending international equity and justice.
China has not only played a leading role in supporting Africa’s fight against the pandemic, but is also the only country that has jointly initiated an extraordinary summit on solidarity against COVID-19 with African countries. In this fight against the pandemic, both China and Africa have achieved good results. The pandemic is under effective control in China and businesses and schools across the country have reopened. In Africa, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths from the disease account for about 4 percent of the world’s total, much lower than the predictions of many international agencies.
Forging closer ties
The unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 has brought challenges to China-Africa economic and trade cooperation and the economic development of African countries. Looking ahead, China and Africa need to further strengthen cooperation with a focus on health, economic recovery and people’s livelihood, and strive to build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future.
First, stronger China-Africa health cooperation is needed to help African countries win the fight against the pandemic. Due to shortages of medical equipment, testing reagents and medical workers, Africa still has a long way to go in defeating the virus. Further assistance from the international community is needed, especially in the face of a second wave of the pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted the importance and urgency of strengthening China-Africa health cooperation. Priority should be given to this area in the future.
Second, the Belt and Road projects in Africa should be further pushed forward and new forms of economic and trade cooperation need to be explored to help Africa revive its economy. Despite its big impact, the pandemic has not altered the underlying economic complementarity between China and Africa, nor has it dampened the enthusiasm for China-Africa cooperation under the Belt and Road framework. With the recovery of supply chains and production chains, China-Africa economic and trade cooperation is expected to soon return to normal. In fact, Chinese and African businesspeople have already started seeking opportunities in new forms of business. For example, at the 127th China Import and Export Fair, or the Canton Fair, held online in June 2019, products were displayed and promoted online and deals were struck between exhibitors and buyers from Africa and other parts of the world without the need to meet in person.
There is no doubt that China will continue to support the construction of the African Continental Free Trade Area and help Africa strengthen connectivity and develop industrial and supply chains. Support should also be provided to accelerate the growth of the digital economy in Africa. China should expand cooperation with African countries in the fields of digitalization and information communication, especially telemedicine and distance education, 5G, smart city, clean energy and big data.
Finally, it is necessary to put priority of China-Africa cooperation further in the fields that help promote people’s livelihood, so that people can benefit more directly from the Belt and Road projects. The pandemic has had great impact on people’s livelihood in Africa, so China-Africa cooperation should focus on people’s livelihood, especially employment. China can encourage more Chinese companies to conduct localized production in Africa to help Africa create jobs and new impetus for economic growth. With the Eighth FOCAC ministerial conference approaching, it is important for China to work closely with the host country Senegal and other African countries to make new plans for China-Africa cooperation in the post-pandemic era.
Source: ChinAfrica, 2021-1-8