The recent China-Africa virtual extra-ordinary summit co-hosted by South Africa and Senegal, the rotating chair of the African Union (AU) and co-chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) respectively, came at a time when African countries are facing monumental socio-economic challenges due to Covid-19 pandemic containment measures.
Damage from the pandemic is more apparent in Africa than other regions due to the continent’s economic and health systemic challenges.
According to a paper on socio-economic implications and responses released early May by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Africa’s economies have taken the hit from several fronts.
Top among these causes is the lower trade investment from China in the short and medium terms. In addition, a lot of economic activity in the continent has been seriously hampered by massive disruption in the global supply chains.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics last Wednesday, there were 263,284 Covid-19 cases in Africa, and 7,079 deaths.
The continent is yet to reach the projected numbers in Covid-19 cases, although no plausible reason has been given yet for this state of affairs.
“We oppose politicization and stigmatization of Covid-19, and we oppose racial discrimination and ideological bias. We stand firm for equity and justice in the world.”President Xi Jinping
The WHO also warned that the pandemic in Africa is “accelerating”, citing the fact that it took 98 days for the continent to get to 100,000 cases, compared to just 18 days to the 200,000 mark.
The building uncertainty over what the future holds led to formation of the African Medical Supplies Platform, which South African President and AU Chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa said would be launched today.
Ramaphosa also took occasion to request China for a six months’ worth of (Covid-19) equipment and other (medical) supplies through the platform.
It is within this context that Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to reassure Africa of China’s commitment in Africa’s economic restoration efforts.
Xi’s speech was based on four scenarios, including following up on his commitments to the continent during the World Health Assembly, strengthening the Belt and Road cooperation, upholding multilateralism, and moving the China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership a notch higher.
The relationship between China and Africa is based on mutuality, a fact Xi acknowledged by appreciating AU’s show of sympathy during the early stages of the pandemic.
Of course, Africa does not have the wherewithal to extend to China, but the deep words of encouragement were a confirmation of tremendous goodwill.
Experts observe that Covid-19 is yet another challenge in the ongoing cordial Sino-Africa relations. Before the pandemic, the main challenge came from the continent’s erstwhile development partners, particularly from the West, who kept warning of China’s underlying aim of ‘mortgaging’ the continent through ‘debt ransom’.
For instance, the latest attempt to portray China as racist arising from the crackdown on illegal immigrants in Gangzhou in April now ring hollow, particularly after true racism was exposed by the recent killing of black American George Floyd.
The flak that was directed at China on racial relations with Africans has actually landed on the US.
Xi was categorical about this matter, by stating, “We oppose politicization and stigmatization of Covid-19, and we oppose racial discrimination and ideological bias. We stand firm for equity and justice in the world.”
Basically, admonitions from external forces hell-bent on creating a wedge between China and Africa have eventually fallen on deaf ears. Even when African citizens or their leaders have expressed reservations on particular incidents, time has always put such misgivings to nought.
Another instance has been growing calls by some international lenders within the Group of 20 pressuring China to offer debt relief to its African debtors. Yesterday, however, Xi disarmed this partisan constituency by pledging that “China will cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020.”
To drive the point home, Xi showed leadership by urging other “members of the G20 to implement the DSSI (Debt Service Suspension Initiative) and, on that basis… to extend debt service suspension still further for countries concerned, including those in Africa”. He went further by calling for an aggressive policy by the international community towards Africa’s debt relief.
This was definitely music to the ears of African countries, who had been made to believe that China was non-committal at best in its debt cancellation efforts.
It is instructive that some countries like Kenya, the largest economy in East Africa, had last Thursday stated it would not seek the G20 debt relief initiative over restrictive terms, with the country’s Finance Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani saying the country was pursuing bilateral lenders like China for a year-long deal.
The journey is long, but the future of prosperous China-Africa relations lies with the continuation of the Belt and Road Initiative, and acceleration of pledges made to each other at the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit.