HEALTH DIPLOMACY

China’s Pan-Africa approach to Covid-19 war

A review of the messaging by top government officials led by President Xi Jinping points to this development.

In Summary

• When President Xi sent a message of congratulations to the 34th AU Summit, he said China and Africa supported each other and overcame the difficulties in the fight against the pandemic.

•  He further said the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against Covid-19 was successfully held, and the cooperation in various fields is advancing. 

China’s Pan-Africa approach to Covid-19 war
China’s Pan-Africa approach to Covid-19 war
Image: OZONE

With the outbreak of Covid-19, China appears to be shifting its diplomatic approach with Africa to collaboration in the fight against the pandemic. A review of the messaging by top government officials led by President Xi Jinping points to this development.

When President Xi sent a message of congratulations to the 34th African Union Summit on February 6, he said China and Africa supported each other and overcame the difficulties in the fight against the pandemic.

He further said the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against Covid-19 was successfully held, and the cooperation in various fields is advancing. 

“A new session of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation is scheduled to be held in Senegal this year. China is ready to work with the African side to build strategic consensus and push for anti-pandemic cooperation,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

When congratulating AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki on his reelection, China said it is ready to have closer communication and coordination to deepen solidarity and cooperation in among other areas fighting Covid-19 and defending international equity and justice.

From the onset, Covid-19 aroused xenophobia, isolationism, nationalism and many other limitations to multilateral cooperation. China was at the centre of global attention, the virus having been identified in Wuhan.

China is now offering global leadership in sharing of knowledge, experiences and ideas on Covid-19 response and treatment.

At the centre of Africa’s response was China’s aid and support. In the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against Covid-19 on June 17, 2020, President Xi expressed China’s commitment to joint response and mutual support towards defeating Covid-19.

In his speech, Xi said China would provide medical supplies, expert teams, facilitate the procurement of medical supplies from China; fast-track the completion of China-Africa Friendship Hospitals, cancel the debts of relevant African countries in the form of interest free loans due to mature by the end of 2020, consider debt suspension under the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative and support multilateral actions in various forums such as the WHO and the UN.

Africa has so far received various forms of aid. As early as March 2020, China dispatched 5.4 million masks, over one million test kits, thousands of personal protective equipment and dispatched medical teams to various African states.

With the discovery of the vaccine, 2021 has come with the promise of a possible return to normalcy. However, this has set in global ‘vaccine diplomacy’ and inequality in the access of the vaccine by governments and populations.

African countries through the AU Vaccine Acquisition Task team are engaged in procuring enough vaccines for the continent. However, Africa is struggling to secure enough doses.

COVAX is providing 600 million doses, the AU getting 400 million from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson; and has also indicated plans to seek China’s vaccine to boost Africa’s vaccine stock.

China has developed SinoPharm and a number of African nations are likely to opt for it as the others are expensive and limited.

Sino-Africa relations are historical and can be traced to the early trade between China and the city of Alexandria in Egypt in the 10th century BC. The establishment of diplomatic relations between

In 2000, China and Africa established the Forum on China- Africa Cooperation, a mechanism to follow-up on agreements between the two parties. It is comprised of 53 African states and the AU Commission.

The Beijing FOCAC Summit of 2018 in its action plan (2019-21) had various declarations that the two sides promised to achieve in the three years leading to the Senegal FOCAC summit in 2021.

Notable declarations include political cooperation, economic cooperation where China and Africa agreed to set up the China- AU Agricultural Cooperation Commission; formulate a China-AU Infrastructure Cooperation Plan and China’s support for the AU’s Single African Air Transport Market.

China expressed its support for the African Continental Free Trade Area but said it will continue to hold free trade negotiations with interested countries and regions. This will be a major hurdle to Africa’s trade integration.

China extended credit lines to Africa valued at $20 billion and $15 billion of grants, interest free and concessional loans to Africa and also promised to share poverty reduction experiences with Africa as it seeks to achieve the AU Agenda 2063 and SDGs and support for the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (in 2020, China offered Sh8 billion for the construction of a Africa CDC building in Kenya).

Notable in China-AU relations is the $200 million Chinese funding and construction of the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa opened in 2012.

In 2015, China established a diplomatic mission to the AU, becoming third after the US and the EU.

Through FOCAC, the China-Africa cooperative partnership for peace and security, the China- AU Strategic Dialogues the two have enhanced their peace and security relations.

In the FOCAC Senegal Summit 2021, it is expected that health interests and mutual partnerships with China in post- Covid-19 socio-economic recovery will form the agenda.

Director, Centre for Strategic Communications