By Lawal Sale Maida
On June 17, the Peoples Republic of China and African leaders met via a teleconference to discuss ways and strategies against the ravaging COVID-19, in furtherance of their joint efforts against the pandemic. The meeting, a joint initiative of President Xi Jinping of China, was held in collaboration with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current rotating chair of the African Union (AU) and the co-chair of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation. (FOCAC) respectively.
In attendance were many other African Union Assemblies of Heads of State and government, including President Buhari of Nigeria. Also, the rotating chairs of major African sub-regional organizations, the Chairperson of the AU commission, the Secretary-General of the UN and the Director General of the WHO, attended the virtual meeting as special guests.
It will be recalled as the first country to face the COVID-19 scourge, China has been actively sharing its experiences with African countries in their fight against the disease. So far, data from the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that total numbers of confirmed cases have exceeded 285,000 and more than 7,700 people on the continent have died from the virus as at June 20.
Over past decades, Sino-Africa friendship has been built on mutual respect and understanding, which had been advanced through mutual support in overcoming myriad challenges. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Africa have today written a new chapter in their friendship, promoting the building of a community based on shared values. Sino-Africa relations became invigorated in late 1960’s when the gale of independence swept through the African continent and since then the relationship has witnessed unprecedented progress with China staunchly supporting Africa’s growth and prosperity. In this millennium, Sino-Africa friendship can best be described as being at an all-time high never seen before.
In his opening statement at the Summit, President Xi Jinping underscored how Sino-Africa friendship had stood the test of time, especially in putting up a fierce fight against COVID-19, including the enormous sacrifices to earn ‘’hard-won results’’ and bring the situation under control. He noted how governments and people in Africa have put up a united front under the efficient coordination of the African Union (AU), taking strong measures to effectively slow the spread of the virus.
President Xi further stated that in the face of COVID-19, China and Africa had offered mutual support to each other and fought shoulder to shoulder against the pandemic. China, he said, will always remember the invaluable support Africa gave China at the height of its battle with the Coronavirus. In return, he stressed, when Africa was struck by the virus, China was the first to rush in with assistance and has since stood firm with the African people.
When China was struck by the Coronavirus, over 50 African leaders had expressed their solidarity with the country, through phone calls, video calls and public statements and, in return China had offered humanitarian support by sending expert medical teams to Africa’s five sub-regions and surrounding countries, including supplying tonnes of protective gears and other relevant medical equipment to many African countries to support their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The African community in China also benefitted from the support provided by the Chinese authorities just like its citizens.
The proposal by the Chinese President to convene a high-level Summit with African leaders in solidarity against COVID-19 has been viewed as a great idea coming at the right time, in the light of China and Africa’s long history of collaboration and mitigating common problems. Based on this perspective, the Summit is expected to further accelerate the pace of the long existing friendship between China and the African continent.
Some of the expected benefits of the solidarity summit were duly highlighted by President Xi in favour of Africa and these include – providing supplies, expert teams, facilitating Africa’s procurement of medical supplies from China, construction of the Africa CDC headquarters, construction of China-Africa friendship hospitals and cooperation to be derived between twined Chinese and African hospitals.
China also pledged the deployment of COVID-19 vaccine to Africa whenever it is developed. Within the context of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) initiative, China similarly pledged to cancel the debts of some African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020. On a broader partnership level, China also announced its intention to work with the UN, WHO and other partners, to assist Africa’s response to COVID-19 in a way that respects the will of the continent.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, in addressing the Summit, urged the international community to support collaboration aimed at sharing knowledge from research and science to fight the pandemic. “As we face a common, pervasive enemy, it is important that we all remain united to save our shared humanity, because this virus knows no borders”, he stressed.
The Nigerian leader also used the occasion to commend the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping, the UN Secretary-general, Antonio Gutierres and the WHO for the respective actions and measures to help the developing and middle-income countries of Africa to tackle the pandemic.
As for the significance of the Summit to both China and Africa, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts and scholars from different parts of the world have viewed it in very favourable terms with Charles Onunaiju, Director at the Centre for China studies in Abuja, Nigeria, saying the most significant aspect of the meeting is in the underlying international response, particularly by China to the pandemic.
“China has accumulated significant experience in response to the pandemic. Leaders have shared the experience of their respective response mechanisms”, he noted, and expressed confidence in the prospective joint fight against the pandemic by China and Africa.
A Pakistani and Executive Director at the Islamabad-based Centre for International Strategic Studies, Ali Sarwar Naqvi said the Summit had drawn close attention of countries around the world to the fact that China’s support will be very critical to Africa’s fight against the pandemic.
China’s Xi Jinping buttresses this fact when he said in one of his many quotes at the Summit : “I am convinced that humanity will ultimately defeat the virus and that the Chinese and African people are poised to embrace better days.”
— Lawal Sale Maida is an Abuja based Global Affairs Analyst (email@example.com)