The Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19, co-chaired by President Xi Jinping and held via video link in June, injected new dynamism into Sino-African friendship and cooperation in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
China and Africa have been working together to expeditiously implement the outcomes of the meeting, with China having delivered more than 400 tons of critically needed medical supplies to 53 African countries and the African Union, and dispatching public health experts to 13 African countries. A total of 21 African countries have signed medical supply procurement deals worth $54 million.
Moreover, the Chinese government and the African Union Commission had already signed an agreement in July for constructing the headquarters building of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.
As for Sino-African economic cooperation, it has not stopped despite the pandemic. More than 1,100 Chinese projects in Africa continued operations and a large number of Chinese workers and technicians have remained on their posts, with over 2,000 employees of Chinese companies returning recently to work in 20 African countries through commercial and chartered flights.
We are happy to see the increase in freight on the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, both built and operated by Chinese enterprises, and it playing a more important role in transportation of medical supplies. Sino-African trade, too, has been growing steadily with the trade volume in the first half of the year exceeding $80 billion and Chinese investment in Africa increasing 1.7 percent year-on-year in spite of the global economic downturn, demonstrating the vitality of China-Africa cooperation.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and with next year’s FOCAC conference, Sino-African cooperation will enter a new stage which needs certain special focuses.
First, to promote the building of a China-Africa health community for all, it is imperative to strengthen COVID-19 vaccine cooperation. When it comes to vaccine research and development, China accords the highest priority to safety and effectiveness, and strictly abides by international laws and norms. Four vaccines developed by China have been approved for clinical trial overseas, leading the world in both quantity and progress. And some countries have expressed their willingness to purchase the Chinese vaccine, and China has already begun the process of vaccine cooperation with African countries.
As President Xi said, once the development and deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit from it. China is willing to deepen cooperation in vaccine research with African countries, but actual cooperation also depends on the willingness of African countries. And we will fully respect the decision of our African friends.
Second, China needs to inject more vitality into African economies to help safeguard people’s livelihoods. In fact, Beijing has decided to encourage more Chinese businesses in African countries to restart work and, based on the actual pandemic situation, make efforts to resume more flights between China and Africa, so as to normalize people-to-people exchanges and cooperation. China has reached a consensus with the AU on the Belt and Road Initiative cooperation plan, and will continue to explore more synergy between the initiative and the AU’s Agenda 2063 for the continent.
Later this year, China will also hold the third China International Import Expo in Shanghai and the second China-Africa Business Expo in Hunan province. African countries are warmly welcomed to participate in these events and contribute to the revitalization of Sino-African trade and investment.
Third, China also needs to encourage investment in Africa to promote local growth. Due to the threat posed by the pandemic, more Chinese businesses have established plans to manufacture face masks and virus testing kits in some African countries, in a bid to extend the health industry chain in Africa and promote local production of anti-pandemic medical supplies. In fact, China is willing to further encourage Chinese businesses to invest in Africa’s industrialization projects including those under public-private partnership.
We also hope Chinese businesses will increase localized production to promote African brands. China and African countries can fully leverage their comparative advantages, and jointly build more industrial parks and special economic zones in Africa, thus transforming the potential of China-Africa infrastructure cooperation into win-win outcomes.
Fourth, Sino-African cooperation projects need to blaze new trails. During the past few years, Africa has developed on several fronts, from trade (as seen in the Continental Free Trade Area) to the digital economy and clean energy. China welcomes the handover of the AfCFTA secretariat building and is ready to discuss with African countries cooperation in free trade in order to boost trade facilitation and African products’ export to China. Also, China and Africa need to deepen cooperation in digital economy, including e-commerce and 5G technology.
Besides, China attaches great importance to African countries’ concerns about climate change, and is willing to strengthen dialogue and work together with Africa to mitigate the impact of climate change. It is also willing to work with African countries to help contain the novel coronavirus, improving the prevention and control measures, so as to ensure the maximum number of people benefit from the efforts.
The author Wu Peng is the director-general of the African Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and former Chinese Ambassador to Kenya.