Shock from virus spurs even deeper Cooperation with Friend from Asia
The demands of responding to the coronavirus appeared to pose challenges for both China and Africa. Instead, the challenges thrown up by the pandemic have presented even greater opportunities for cooperation, solidarity and partnership between the two sides.
The pandemic has become the common enemy of the world over the past year. After making tremendous efforts against the virus, China has succeeded in controlling its spread, enabling industries to resume normal production even as pockets of infections flare up sporadically.
Africa’s first coronavirus case was reported on Feb 14, in Egypt. The outbreak has since spread to all 54 countries on the continent. The coronavirus continues to take its toll on people and ravage economies, as authorities maintain control measures against it.
According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there were some 3,021,769 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 72,121 deaths, on Tuesday.
South Africa, where a resurgence in the coronavirus has been fueled by a new, more infectious variant, recently became the first African country to record more than 1 million infections.
Clayton Hazvinei Vhumbunu, a technical officer with the Faculty of Humanities at Rhodes University in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, said that in early 2020 African countries extended messages of solidarity to the Chinese government when the outbreak was reported in China. They expressed a spirit of cooperation with China in the fight against the virus.
“Later, as COVID-19 cases increased in Africa, China assisted African countries through the deployment of medical personnel, medical equipment, personal protective equipment, among other forms of assistance and support,” Vhumbunu said.
Many African countries have benefited from the Chinese donations made to the United Nations’ Global Humanitarian Response Plan to COVID-19 and the China-FAO South-South Cooperation Trust Fund (Phase III). China had contributed $50 million to each initiative by the end of September.
Vhumbunu said that, on the economic front, COVID-19 has brought disruptions to trade and delays to Chinese-contracted investment projects in Africa. The pandemic also slowed foreign direct investment inflows from China.
The General Administration of Customs of China reported in early December that trade with Africa fell 10.6 per cent in the first 11 months of the year.
“China seems to be ahead in its post-pandemic economic recovery path. This may be good news for Africa since China remains a key strategic partner to the continent in terms of trade, investment, and political cooperation,” he said.
At the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in June last year, President Xi Jinping made a keynote speech via video in which he assured African countries that China will continue supporting COVID-19 containment measures on the continent.
While calling for solidarity and cooperation to defeat the novel coronavirus pandemic, Xi also unveiled an array of measures to help Africa cope with the public health crisis, including providing technical and material support and debt relief for countries.
According to China’s Ambassador Designate to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, the Chinese government had delivered more than 400 tons of emergency anti-pandemic supplies to 53 African countries and the African Union by the start of September last year.
It also assisted 21 African countries through China’s signing of procurement contracts worth over $54 million.
China has sent medical expert teams to 13 African countries, and 46 hospitals from 42 African countries have confirmed their participation in a cooperation mechanism that pairs them with Chinese hospitals, Chen said.
China has inked an agreement with the African Union for the construction of the headquarters of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Work on the project is due to start this year, Chen said in an interview with the African News Agency.
Maria Gustava, Mozambique’s ambassador to China, said the relationship between China and Africa in 2020, especially their joint efforts against COVID-19, was excellent and “a good example of true solidarity which prevailed from the initial stages of the outbreak of COVID-19 up to now”.
She said that Africa stood with China and delivered crucial support when China was at the height of its battle against the virus.
“China also provided timely, valuable assistance through a multipronged approach in bolstering Africa’s capabilities to respond to the pandemic,” she said.
“Indeed, China and Africa have a history of working together to mitigate challenges”
Gustava noted the significance of the extraordinary summit between the leaders of Africa and China, in which solidarity was expressed as part of efforts to boost international cooperation against COVID-19.
The outcome of the summit sent a strong message to the world on the importance of countries working together to address the challenges posed by a common enemy.
“China and Africa are strategic partners, share common values and principles and the existing friendship between them is deep-rooted and sincere,” she said.
“Therefore, China plays an important role in African development in different forms, and Africa is an important ally for China in pursuing its principles of world peace, sustainable development, eradication of poverty, climate change mitigation and multilateralism, among others.”
He Yun, an assistant professor at the School of Public Administration at Hunan University in Changsha, said last year brought challenges and opportunities for the China-Africa relationship.
Because of the spread of COVID-19, the numbers of people travelling between China and Africa have fallen dramatically. As a result, people-to-people exchanges have been dealt a severe blow.
“However, China has been quick to provide medical aid, supplies, and debt relief to African nations in the fight against COVID-19,” He said. “These efforts proved China is a reliable and trusted partner and they strengthened bilateral relations.”
Africa is important for China because it is the fastest-growing region economically and a time-proven friend diplomatically. It also provides much-needed energy and mineral resources and a market for China’s supply chains, the academic said.
For Africa, a partnership with China can help meet Africans their demands for services and infrastructure more quickly.
China’s economic miracle also serves as an inspiration, offering lessons that can be learned in Africa
China’s emphasis on sovereignty and noninterference in relations is also highly attractive to African leaders and scholars, He said.
He said that health cooperation is the most important factor for strengthened bilateral cooperation in the new year. China and Africa can share medical technologies, medical equipment, data and professional experience through the Belt & Road Initiative.
Hisham AbuBakr Metwally, a researcher at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry, said with the arrival of 2021, African countries are urgently waiting for Chinese COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines are considered the most appropriate for distribution in Africa, with its hot weather.
Metwally said the development projects led by China in Africa should return to the pre-pandemic pace, helping African nations to achieve economic growth targets.