The Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19 (Summit) presents the African continent with an opportunity to review its understanding of China-Africa relationship. The Summit has revealed the true meaning of what many had come to regard as mere rhetoric. Expressions such as ‘win-win cooperation for common development’, ‘mutual respect’, ‘common prosperity’ and ‘building a community of a shared future’ had for many become buzzwords to be used only when dealing with China.
Many never thought that these could become a reality in our lifetime. However, pledges and friendship renewals during the Summit reveal a China that is steadfast in its resolve to stand by the African continent through thick and thin. It reveals a China that is ready to walk hand in hand with Africa into greater heights of the international community. If the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation Action Plan (2019-2021) merely focuses on China-Africa relationship, the Summit is a trailblazer towards positioning Africa as a key player in the international spaces.
In the face of Covid-19, China and Africa have enhanced solidarity and strengthened friendship and mutual trust. During the Summit President Xi Jinping reaffirmed that no matter how the international landscape may evolve, China shall never waver in its determination to pursue greater solidarity and cooperation with Africa. President Xi pointed out that China shall always remember the invaluable support from African nations at the height of the battle with the coronavirus. In return, when Africa is now struck by the virus, China is the first to rush in with assistance and has since stood firm with the African people.
It should be remembered that seven years ago, faced with the backlash against economic globalization, rising geopolitical instability and non-traditional security challenges, President Xi proposed and expounded on the great vision and major initiative of building a community with a shared future for mankind. In advocating for the pursuit of win-win cooperation for common development and building an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world with lasting peace, common prosperity and universal security by planning together, building together and sharing together, President Xi referred to Africa as a key player in riding out the crises.
The steadfastness of the China-Africa relationship ought to be regarded from two perspectives. First, when China was faced with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 outbreak leaders of more than 170 countries and heads of over 50 international and regional organizations expressed sympathy, solidarity and support to China. As many as 79 countries and 10 international organizations extended a helping hand to China’s anti-pandemic efforts. That clearly demonstrates that nations and organizations across the world have never been so closely connected in terms of destiny and common interests.
Several South African enterprises and companies kindly donated in considerable cash and in kind to China. The strong bond of tested friendship and brotherhood of the South African, and African people in general has proven strong enough to ride the wave of a crises brought by the Covid-19. The efforts by the African community in assisting China reflect practical implementation of the spirit of solidarity and building a community of shared future for mankind.
The statement by the President of the ANC Women’s League Bathabile Dlamini recently is yet another indication of the state of the China-Africa relationship and as to where South Africa is headed post the Cocid-19. She stated that Africa-China relationship ought to serve as a go-to example of co-operation in a post-pandemic world. She stressed a need to embrace a wider understanding of who South Africa and the continent can rely upon to build a symbiotic basis from which everyone has a say and everyone has a share.
The second reading of the Summit ought to reflect a consolidation of gains and milestones of the China-Africa cooperation. The Summit reassured all China-Africa cooperation stakeholders of continued implementation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021). The Summit aimed at also assuring those African nations severely impacted by the current Covid-19 that their voices and inputs do matter to the development of friendships between the peoples of Africa and China.
China promised to follow through on the measures it announced at the opening of the World Health Assembly. China announced that it will start ahead of schedule the construction of the Africa CDC headquarters this year and speed up the construction of China-Africa Friendship Hospitals as part of the health care initiative adopted at the FOCAC Beijing Summit. President Xi reassured those present in the Summit that once the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit. Paramount to Africa was a declaration that China aims to engage in a manner that respects Africa in working with the UN, WHO and other partners to assist Africa's response to COVID-19.
The Summit pledged to use channels within the FOCAC framework to cancel debt of African nations hardest hit by the Covid-19. China promised that African countries that are hardest hit by the coronavirus and are under heavy financial stress, China will work with the global community to give them greater support. President Xi encouraged Chinese financial institutions to respond to the G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and to hold friendly consultations with African countries according to market principles in order to work out arrangements for commercial loans with sovereign guarantees. In practical terms China pledged to help convince the international community, especially developed countries and international financial institutions, to act more forcefully on debt relief and suspension for struggling African nations.
The entire tone and message of the Summit serves as an expression of placing Africa as a key player in strengthening multilateralism. In conclusion, China and Africa stand a better chance of coming out of the current Covid-19 crises with an ability to advance a more dynamic, inclusive, sustainable and secure globalization process by following the principle of planning together, building together and sharing together.
* Paul Tembe is Associate Professor at the Institute of African Studies Zhejiang Normal University. Jinhua, China. He is also based at the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Relations.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.