Fraternity renewed with unwavering solidarity
Enhanced China-Africa cooperation during the pandemic can serve as an important catalyst for the world's economic recovery
The spread of the novel coronavirus has put health systems in African countries increasingly under pressure, which could contribute to the slowing down of the commendable political, economic and social progress that Africa has made over the last few decades.
Although African leaders have made progress in mobilizing and developing a coordinated response to the pandemic in a unified manner, Africa urgently needs the support of its international partners to fight against the virus through the strengthening of its health systems and governance.
It is critically important to increase the capacity of African countries to test, trace and treat and adequately absorb the rising number of infections, as well as enhance their clinical care capacity, vaccine research, equity and accessibility to treatment and therapeutics.
In his opening remarks at the China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 on June 17, South African President and the Chair of the African Union Cyril Ramaphosa, reaffirmed the urgent need for medical supplies, testing equipment and facilities and personal protective equipment and ventilators for Africa. He added that the AU wanted to continue to work with China "to allow African countries to procure goods from China".
Another matter which is also of critical importance to Africa in this time of crisis, is economic relief measures. Africa continues to reiterate its call for debt cancellation or a moratorium on debt repayments and the implementation of a comprehensive relief package for African countries in response to COVID-19. President Ramaphosa said at the Summit that the AU has been at the "forefront of mobilizing international support for a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa" as well as "debt relief including a two-year debt standstill and a plan for the restructuring of both private and bilateral debt".
The goals and requirements of Africa, as set out by Ramaphosa, prior and during the summit, were addressed by President Xi Jinping, who said that China remains committed to implementing the measures announced at the virtual meeting of the 73rd World Health Assembly in May by providing medical supplies, sending medical experts to Africa, assisting Africa in purchasing anti-pandemic materials, the implementation of the Health Action plan within the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), once the development and use of a COVID-19 vaccine has been achieved.
The Chinese leader also declared China's intention to provide African countries within the FOCAC framework interest free government loans and to work with the international community toward the extension of the period of debt suspension within the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative.
It is significant that the outcome of the Summit represented "a positive meeting of minds" between China and Africa on COVID-19. This like-minded approach and the synergies that exist between China and Africa, present numerous opportunities for China and Africa, to further step up their cooperation, not only on COVID-19, but also on broader bilateral and multilateral matters. The AU and African leaders appreciated and welcomed the outcome of the summit deliberations and there is great appreciation, on the part of Africa, for the continued and generous support China is extending to help it fight the virus.
In addition to assuming the AU chair in February, South Africa is concurrently chairing the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, which coincides with the final year of South Africa's non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. South Africa has proposed a number of key objectives for Africa, in its capacity as the AU chair: prioritizing economic development, trade and investment, the implementation of the AU Agenda 2063, and the implementation of the "presidential infrastructure champion initiative" in support of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Ramaphosa's overarching goals for the African continent are the resolution of conflict and building a framework in which socioeconomic development can take place. He believes there is no reason why Africa, with its huge opportunities, should not start to unleash its potential in this century despite the current COVID-19 challenges. Given the strong fraternal bond and friendship between them, there is increasingly huge scope for enhanced cooperation between China and Africa, based on mutual respect and trust, equality, good faith and win-win results, to address the many development and economic challenges facing Africa, in the wake of COVID-19 and beyond.
In fact, the strengthened cooperation between China and Africa in their joint fight against the pandemic will create new and exciting opportunities for broader bilateral and multilateral cooperation. It is anticipated that future China-Africa cooperation will be stepped up in the months to come, many of the challenges facing China and Africa could be constructively addressed within the contexts of the FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Moreover, enhanced cooperation between China and Africa within these frameworks could play an increasingly significant role and serve as an important catalyst for the economic recovery of both Africa and the world. There are also ample opportunities for China and Africa to jointly work toward the implementation of President Xi's commendable Health Silk Road Initiative which is an extension of the Belt and Road Initiative and which could contribute significantly to improve global health governance.
As China continues to prove itself as a friend in times of need, not only to Africa but to countries around the world, it is developing a unique leadership position in the fight against the novel coronavirus which may ultimately alter global power relations. Africa knows that China is "a friend in need" and that Africa and China probably need each other more than at any time in recent history, not only to fight against the pandemic but more importantly to build a community with a shared future for humankind.
The author is a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and a senior research fellow with the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.