Former Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian
Former Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian

OPINION: International solidarity for Covid-19

By Bamanye Matiwane Time of article published Jun 3, 2020

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China has an almost folksy way of describing what its intentions are in the maelstrom of complex international affairs - half a decade ago it was “people to people co-operation” and “win-win co-operation”.

And for all its platitudinal soap-boxing at times, the People’s Republic puts its money and resources where its mouth is.

Departed Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian - an expert in Sino-African relations having spent time in at least 30 countries on the continent and who also held ambassadorships in Liberia, Malawi and Zambia - is a prime example of the dragon economy’s modern politician.

Adroit at dishing out bite-sized soundbites to media, Lin would speak of how China would build the hardware, and liken it to an open bird’s nest for whichever country it had invested in infrastructure - and would proclaim that it was now up to that country to make use of the foundation provided by the Chinese.

In March, Songtian had re-iterated the solidity of his country’s relationship with South Africa and its faith in the administration of Cyril Ramaphosa to effectively handle the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Songtian had also pointed out gains made by other African countries China was involved in from an infrastructural investment perspective.

To perhaps better understand the Chinese and their importance to the world from an economic perspective going forward, even its greatest critics cannot deny that the country has shown immense resolve and determination in lifting its nearly a billion and a half population out of poverty.

Noted Songtian in 2017: “From 1978 to 2016, the GDP and per capita GDP of the Chinese economy has increased significantly from $216.8 billion and $227 to $11 trillion and $8,000 respectively. Over 700 million Chinese population have been lifted out of poverty, which is a miracle for world economic growth. By 2020, China will eliminate poverty entirely out of its 1.4 billion population.”

Even with the Covid-19 outbreak, it would not be beyond imagination that the Chinese fulfils this ambition by the end of this year.

Chinese growth - having the second largest economy in the world - has created opportunities for world development.

It is also not hampered nor restricted by what we are witnessing in western countries - inward-looking, far-right wing inspired policies eschewing the virtues of the so-called global village.

China’s message to the world during this crisis has also been exponentially more lucid and sane than the confrontationist stance from especially the US and its rogue president Donald Trump.

A closer look at the numbers with regard to, especially its relationship with Africa, speaks volumes for its commitment to “people to people co-operation”.

Since the Forum for China Africa Co-Operation’s (FOCAC) watershed conference in Johannesburg in December of 2015, hundreds of projects worth more than US$100 billion have been completed; more than 100 000 Africans received training and thousands of scholarships awarded to African students.

The World Economic Forum has noted that Chinese innovation and action could well provide the blueprint for the planet in the next two decades.

“Through the “ACE effect”, the industrial internet provides a fundamental infrastructure for empowering individuals and organisations. Enterprises, government and individuals have all actively engaged in the war on Covid-19 through the advantage supplied by this technology and the advantage this creates has helped China to almost stop the outbreak,” said the WEF in April.

It continued: “These enabling capabilities will outlast the Covid-19 pandemic and make lasting contributions to the sustainable development of mankind. Tencent’s partnership with the UN, in recognition of its upcoming 75th anniversary, is a good example. The initiative will ask millions of participants worldwide how our planet should look in 2045 and what role international cooperation can play in solving our common challenges, both now and in the future.”

China is not the enemy. It pulled itself up by the bootstraps at home and is now standing tall on the world stage. To ignore its medical and technological advances and methodologies in combating pandemics like Covid-19 would be foolhardy.

“Now is the time for neighbourliness, not hostility,” says the WEF.

But as has been demonstrated by the sagas of Brexit and Trump’s ill-conceived wall-building rants, it is the West who needs to take heed of this message more than any other nations.

It is after all, it was not the Chinese who withdrew its financial and other support for the World Health Organisation.

If we are to truly fulfil the ideals of a global village, surely we cannot ignore the Chinese and its willingness to sit around the table to find solutions to the threats facing mankind today.

The west and its dithering leadership of which Trump and Boris Johnson are prime examples cannot be trusted to have the world’s best interests at heart when so much of their focus has been narrow and divisive.

Bamanye Matiwane is the President of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) & Buyile Matiwane is the Deputy President of SASCO

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