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Published On: Wed, Apr 22nd, 2020

The Struggle against COVID-19 and Nigeria-China cooperation

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By Charles Onunaiju

Despite the vicissitudes of the current times in which the outbreak of the virus, COVID-19, is testing established rules and challenging conventions, China-Nigeria relation in particular and Sino-Arica cooperation in general is built to withstand the test of time. As Chinese president Xi Jinping always says about the country’s reforms, that the challenges arising from reform can only be solved by deepening reforms, so it seem that the challenges of Nigeria-China bilateral cooperation would only be solved by deepening cooperation between the two countries. The outbreak of the new strain of the corona virus disease, which has exploded on the world stage as a pandemic has raised the question of public health as a serious non-traditional security threat that require as much of serious international cooperation as the threat of terrorism or other classical global security threat.
China-Africa cooperation has long anticipated such concern and established public health issues as part of its extensive cooperation and collaboration. Despite the novelty of COVID-19 when it showed up in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it met its march by the extensive and elaborate mobilization of the Chinese people and its scientific community in over whelming response that saw complete deployment of human and material recourse to the epicenter of the outbreak, resulting in the epic halt and rollback of the COVID-19 offensive. Tragically, the epic Chinese people’s war against the pandemic did not result in its complete surrender, as the vile disease showed up-in other parts of the world, with troubling intensity and vehemence. However as the disease rampage and ravage many nations of the world, China’s response has become a standard bearer in the control and containment of the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO)/China joint mission on COVID-19 in its report of last February stated the unique nature of China’s response and the lessons it holds for the universal defeat of the virus. According to the Report, “in the face of a previously unknown virus, China rolled out perhaps, the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. The strategy that underpinned this containment effort was initially a national approach that promoted universal temperature monitoring, masking and hand-washing. However as the outbreak evolved and knowledge was gained, a science and risk-based approach was taken to tailor implementation. Specific containment measures Were adjusted to the provincial, county and even community context…Beyond China’s innovative strategy, in the containment of the disease, the joint WHO/China mission pointed at the remarkable speed with which Chinese scientists, and public Health experts isolated the causative virus, established the diagnostic tools and determined key transmission parameters, such as the route of spread and incubation period, provided the vital evidence base for China’s strategy..” Further underlining the universal significance of China’s vigorous and robust strategy in the containment of the virus, the report recommended that “the world urgently needs access to China’s experience in responding to COVID-19, as well as the materials goods it brings to the global response…”
The full report of WHO/China joint mission is readily available online and easily accessible and one wonders whether the president of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) that so vehemently opposed that the Chinese experience in combating COVID-19 as relevant to our national strategy to combat scourge of the virus has actually seen or read the report. Despite the report of the WHO/China joint mission, it is a fact established by common sense, that a global pandemic in the nature of COVID-19 would require elaborate international cooperation that any experience gained from anywhere that contributes to the vulnerability of the disease would be infinitely useful.
Having established a firm trajectory in public health cooperation and collaboration, since China sent her first medical mission to Africa in 1963 to the common trenches shared in the battle to combat the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, public health concerns has been in the mainstream of the multifaceted cooperation between the two sides. In both the eight point cooperative framework outlined by the president Xi Jinping in the 3rd summit of the forum on China-Africa cooperation held in Beijing in 2018 and key points in the international frame work of the Belt and Road Initiative, two major mechanisms of accessing public goods for which Nigeria is strategically engaged, health cooperation and peoples wellbeing featured in the respective core outlines.
The common fight against the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that people’s major concerns about their well-being, livelihood and health, mainstreamed in the key protocols of China-Nigeria relations in particular and Sino-Africa cooperation in general is beyond what the abstract high politics of power and ideology can comprehend.
Soon after outbreak of the COVID-19 in Wuhan, President Xi Jinping made categorically clear that people’s livelihood should be considered above everything else. The Nigeria-China cooperation which has been severally described as a pacesetter and model for fruitful bilateral cooperation took a high quality turn when Beijing in 2005 elevated the cooperation to strategic partnership, involving activation of respective national mechanisms for prior consultations on key international issues and mutual respect for sensitive core national concerns and issues of each other. The enhancement of bilateral consultation, and broadening of dialogue across several issues, involving diverse actors ranging from state and non-state actors have multiplied the channels of communication, and not only deepened but also widened the scope and intensity of engagement.
But, new progress also comes with challenges. The outbreak of the COVID-19 with the previously unheard of terms like lockdown, social distancing, contact tracings and its other unique baggage’s are bound to bring new strains on established rules of engagement. The unique nature of the containment strategies of COVID-19 are definitely bound to bring disruptions to conventions. Some Nigerians and other Africans caught in the web of rules and other measures for epidemic control, while traveling in China on routine business trip may not have accommodated themselves to the restrictions imposed to control and contain the spread of the virus, with general misunderstanding between local enforcement authorities and the visitors.
Those misconstruing this misunderstanding because of the viral videos did not reckon that for long, the Nigeria and other Africans traveling to the Chinese Southern city of Guangzhou either for short business trips or residency have been part of the social fabric of life in the city. Nigerians and other Africans in Guangzhou are not new or recent and have long evolved into the city’s social and cultural fabric giving the city its unique texture of beautiful garden where different flowers in their respective colours bloom.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 may have brought new strains on established conventions; it also affords new opportunities for cooperation as nations compare notes on their respective responses which would most likely evolve the best practice in epidemic control and containment.
Despite, the devastations of the second world war, it evolved new institutions and frame work for international cooperation, which, though, have not ended wars but have helped to hold back the scale of wars and even mitigate its worst outcomes.
China best practice in CONVID-19 control and containment for which Nigeria front line health workers could engage with, while battling to contain and control the spread of the disease is a valuable addition to the remarkable ingenuity of the nation’s health workers and the conversation with their Chinese colleagues will not detract from the huge debt of gratitude the nation owes them in their epic sacrifice to roll back the menace of the vile virus. Nigeria-China cooperation, a work in progress, built on the expanding frontier of mutual learnings will emerge stronger and vigorously point the way to the shared future of our common humanity.

Mr. Onunaiju, Director, Center For China Studies, (CCS) Utako, Abuja.

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