GUEST Column by Charles Onunaiju
Even before the dust of disruptions and devastation inflicted on lives and livelihood by the vile Coronavirus settle, robust conversations, and actionable road maps are well underway to facilitate global recoveries and particularly lift up struggling economies in Africa to the path of sustainable and inclusive growth. The sinister COVID-19 pandemic restores to urgent recognition of humankind common humanity as the equal opportunity disease burrowed across all countries in equal measures. If there has been an iota of doubt that the world community is intrinsically and irrevocably tied to common destiny and shared future, the outbreak of the pandemic clears it up. The durable dread of thermonuclear conflagration and the corollary of mutual balance of nuclear capabilities among major power as a meaningful deterrent have completely paled into insignificance to the disasters of the new Coronavirus pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic as surprisingly lethal as it has proven to be, also brought forth, more forcefully human kind’s most potent weapon to confront the assault of its common afflictions: solidarity and cooperation.
In 2013, the Chinese President and also, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China outlined a bold vision of international cooperation and laid out a framework for the construction of community of shared future for humankind with a practical road-map of networks of infrastructure connectivity across land, maritime and air routes, thereby given the idea and concept of international community or global village a concrete expression.
The launch of the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” now known as the “Belt and Road framework of international cooperation is a major game-changer to international governance system offering impetus of consultation, collaboration and cooperation, critical tools of strategic international engagement that has proved extremely useful with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
In a letter he wrote to the High-level video conference on the Belt and Road International cooperation recently, President Xi Jinping noted that “Be it, in taming the virus or in achieving economic recovery, we cannot succeed without solidarity, cooperation and multi-lateralism. The right approach to tackling global crises and realizing long-term development is through greater connectivity, openness and inclusiveness. This is where Belt and Road international cooperation can make a difference”
For African countries, which are key partners in the Belt and Road international cooperation, the difference that would be made in the post-COVID-19 recoveries of their respective economies through more stellar engagement to the Belt and Road process cannot be over-emphasized. For Africa and the rest of the world, the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been well noted and there are considerable consensus, that post COVID-19 recovery efforts would significantly feature enhanced trade, increased domestic productivity that would leverage efficient infrastructure. The strategic requirements for speedy recovery and normalization of post Covid-19 era, are well in the core of the key elements of the Belt and Road framework of international cooperation. As Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, told his colleagues during the video conference, the Belt and Road Initiative “has evolved into the largest platform for international cooperation, playing an ever more important role in promoting development and prosperity around the world.” And to underline the practical significance of the Belt and Road process, the minister explained that “in 2019, trade in goods between China and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partners topped 1.3 trillion USD up by 6 percent, year on year. Chinese investment in Belt and Road countries increased by 15 billion USD. In the first quarter of the year, trade between China and BRI partners rose by 3.2% and direct investment by China, up by 11.7 percent on a yearly basis.”
Even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the Belt and Road international process has considerably advanced, with the phase 1 of the Nairobi-Malaba railway among many others across the world coming into operation. Significantly between January and May, the China-Europe Railway express witnessed a surge of 28% increase in freight train services and 32% in freight volume which saw the transportation of 12, 524 tones of medical supplies, which served as key “cargo lifeline.”
The facts are overwhelming that far from holding back, the Belt and Road international cooperation, COVID-19 has only underscored its strong resilience and vitality and no doubt that the BRI whose foundation is already well aligned to the challenges of international emergency will be an indispensable driving force to the world brighter prospects.
Africa’s critical challenges to the rising COVID-19 pandemic and even the post-Covid-19 era could be reasonably contained in the key and functional tools of the Belt and Road Initiative. Foremost among the international public goods that would align to the urgent needs for recovery and stabilization in Africa are explicitly outlined in the Initiative and be it robust trade, critical and enabling infrastructures and the two engagement mechanism of consultation and cooperation, the path to recovery and sustainable growth from the disruptions of COVID-19 is clear, if only Africa makes the deliberate choice.
Since 2018, at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, (FOCAC), many African countries made the historic choice of partnership to the Belt and Road framework of international cooperation but this is quite different from consciously accessing the opportunities of the partnership. The challenges of Covid-19 pandemic have uniquely offered African countries an objective condition to not only re-consider the opportunities of the BRI partnership but to vigorously and robustly access it. The Belt and Road framework of international cooperation will certainly not be a magic wand that would solve all problems in one moment, especially the herculean challenges of post-COVID-19 recovery, but would certainly add to the arsenals of domestic policy initiatives of many partner countries and bring them to the path of sustainable and inclusive growth.
The Belt and Road international partnership and its dialogue framework rooted in extensive consultations, joint contributions and shared benefits align with the emerging international structure of multi-lateralism which was the famous goal of historic struggles of the South for which Africa has been the spiritual mainstream.
Beyond its symbolic significance as the bridge of comprehensive partnership between the North and South, the Belt and Road framework of international cooperation is practical and functional global public goods offering diverse tangibles that could fit the specific national requirements of partner countries in a coordinated manner that strengthens the world system and advance humankind to a community of shared future. Africa must continuously find a niche in this process and especially in the current context of Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermaths.
Mr. Onunaiju, is director, Center for China Studies, Abuja, Nigeria