Travellers wear face masks as they sit in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station early this year. China has called on the international community to increase political and financial support to the World Health Organization. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein/AP
Travellers wear face masks as they sit in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station early this year. China has called on the international community to increase political and financial support to the World Health Organization. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

China is seizing the Covid-19 moment

By Shannon Ebrahim - Global Eye - Time of article published May 22, 2020

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The current global juncture

presents China with a historic and strategic opportunity to revise the international order, and exercise real global leadership.

President Xi Jinping is not hiding China’s aspirations, and has said it is to move closer to the centre of the world stage.

China seeks to place itself at the centre of power and influence, and the acceleration of current geopolitical shifts are certainly in its favour. Not only is China acting to shape the Covid-19 period, but also its aftermath, and it is likely to be successful in doing so as it is taking important global initiatives at a time when there is an absence of US leadership.

Xi made an important speech on Monday at the 73rd World Health Assembly, where he outlined a number of proposals on how the international community could work together in the fight against Covid-19 and ensure sustainable economic recovery.

He stressed this is a global fight as the pandemic has affected 7billion people around the world, and has claimed more than 300000 lives.

Xi outlined six specific proposals relating to global co-operation, the first being for countries to collaborate on the control and treatment of Covid-19, and to support global research by scientists on source and transmission routes of the virus.

The second proposal relates to the imperative that the World Health Organization should lead the global response to the pandemic, and Xi specifically said: “To support the WHO is to support international co-operation.

“China calls on the international community to increase political and financial support to the WHO.”

The point was an obvious counter to US President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would cut funding to the WHO at the most critical moment in the pandemic, which seems to be motivated by the perception of the Trump administration that the WHO was not critical enough of China’s handling of the outbreak and alleged lack of transparency.

What China is doing is leading

the charge in defence of multilateralism and global governance when the US as superpower is recoiling into isolationism.

China has positioned itself as the main partner supporting African countries in this crisis, with the third proposal calling for greater support for Africa in terms of building capacity, providing material, technology and personnel support. Xi emphasised that China had sent substantive medical supplies and five medical teams to the continent to support the fight against the pandemic.

In his fourth proposal, Xi focused on the need to strengthen global governance on health because this would not be the last deadly pandemic, and the international community needed to be better prepared and capacitated to deal with coming health challenges.

Xi supported the idea of an independent and objective review of the global response to Covid-19 so that the community of nations could work together to address what went wrong and identify ways to improve efficiency and speed in countering pandemics.

No other country is playing the role of calling for collaborative global efforts to improve global governance in health matters, which is a role usually played by a global hegemon in the context of an international crisis.

Most important is the fact that Xi backed up these overarching proposals with concrete initiatives which China would take to assist other countries and exercise leadership.

Xi said China will provide $2billion (R36bn) over the next two

years to assist with Covid-19 response and ensure economic and social

development.

China will work with the UN to create a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China, and work to ensure operation of anti-epidemic supply chains and fast track transport and customs clearance.

China plans to establish a mechanism for hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals and accelerate the building of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters to help the continent ramp up disease preparedness. China intends to work with G20 members to implement the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for the poorest countries. This compliments the initiative the country took last month to freeze bilateral loan repayments for poor countries until the end of the year.

Contrary to the attitude of the US administration, which sought some weeks ago to poach German scientists to develop a Covid-19 vaccine for use in the US only, Xi stressed that vaccine development in China would be for the global public.

* Ebrahim is Independent Media’s foreign editor.

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