China and Africa have been supporting each other in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, with China being the only country to hold an online summit with African countries－the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19－to boost international cooperation to contain the disease.
In that same spirit and maintaining the 31-year tradition of Chinese foreign ministers paying their first overseas visit to Africa in the new year, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is on an official visit to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and Seychelles. The six-day visit that began on Monday highlights the importance China attaches to its relations with Africa and shows their enduring friendship.
China resumed production and pretty much all other economic activities in the second half of 2020, and Africa, belying global reports, accounted for less than 3 percent of the world’s total infection cases and deaths in the first half, which, apart from reflecting the effectiveness of their pandemic control and prevention measures, have had a positive impact on China-Africa cooperation.
Although the mutant virus strain and second wave of infections and deaths have created new risks for China and Africa, Wang’s visit to the five countries is expected to consolidate the Sino-African friendship and promote anti-pandemic cooperation, creating new, more promising opportunities for both sides.
China and Africa have scaled up the implementation of follow-ups to the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit in Beijing by according top priority to the healthcare, with China signing debt service suspension agreements with 12 African countries and providing waivers of matured interest-free loan for 15 African countries. The two sides will now discuss the 2021 FOCAC meetings in Senegal, and work in the three priority areas of vaccine cooperation, economic recovery and transformative development, so as to build a new consensus on solidarity for the benefit of the people in both Africa and China.
The African countries Wang is visiting have disparate demographies and are at different stages of development. Botswana is in southern Africa and Tanzania in east Africa. Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean off East Africa with a relatively less-developed economy and a population of less than 100,000. Nigeria, on the other hand, is the most populous country and the largest economy in Africa. As for the Democratic Republic of Congo, it has the richest natural resources among all African countries. As such, Wang’s visit can help China, through broad exchanges and representative talks, better prepare for the 2021 FOCAC meetings in Senegal.
This year will also see the final achievements of the 2018 FOCAC summit, and Wang’s visits to the five countries will push forward the implementation of the “eight major initiatives” launched in Beijing, including industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity and green development. Yet, as part of the follow-ups to the Beijing FOCAC summit, completing the healthcare initiative is key to building a global community of health for all.
Besides, since China and Africa will also implement the consensuses reached at the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in June, work on flagship projects such as China-Africa Friendship Hospitals is likely to be expedited and China will make good its promise of making its vaccines global public goods and providing them for developing countries including African countries. In fact, the first batch of 50,000 Chinese vaccines has already arrived in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.
As Wang said in an interview on Jan 2, China and Africa will use the FOCAC meetings in Senegal to attach high priority to facilitating economic recovery, and promoting cooperation in the production and distribution of vaccines.
Notwithstanding the pandemic-induced economic recession, China strived to fulfill its commitments to boost China-Africa cooperation in 2020. The construction of the headquarters of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is supported by China and being built by Chinese contractors, started in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in December. The 90,000-square-meter center, likely to be completed in two years, will help the Africa CDC to improve coordination, mobilization, and emergency management of public health events, and strengthen scientific research.
Further, Jan 1 saw the official launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area, an important step toward building a unified market for African countries, which eventually will boost China-Africa trade.
China is also making efforts to boost economic recovery by, among other things, aligning the AFCFTA with the Belt and Road Initiative. Also, China signed an agreement with the African Union in December to promote the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa, which will synergize the initiative with Africa’s Agenda 2063, a master plan and blueprint to transform Africa into a global powerhouse of the future. These will help China and Africa to meet the challenges facing globalization, further integrate Africa’s economies with the global economy, and promote the high-quality development of the initiative.
Moreover, China’s first free trade agreement with an African country, the China-Mauritius Free Trade Agreement, went into effect on Jan 1, marking a new beginning in Sino-African trade cooperation and paving the way for more such bilateral economic and trade cooperation between China and other African countries in the post-pandemic period, which will upgrade and eventually transform Sino-African trade.
The pandemic’s impact has not changed the complementary nature of China’s and African countries’ economies, so Sino-African trade is expected to gather steam soon after the industrial and supply chains start functioning fully. And Wang’s visit to Africa will ensure that happens sooner rather than later.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, and China-Africa Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.The views don’t necessarily represent those of China Daily.