Strengthening Africa-China Relations Amid the Pandemic

Observers are of the view that there is a need for African countries to deepen their strategic engagement with China and strengthen the existing diplomatic relations between the pair.

They believe that, going forward, deepening Sino-African engagement is key to resolving health system collapse, general insecurity, socio-economic and political challenges, among others prevalent in Africa, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of China’s significant interventions in African countries in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

According to them, strengthening Africa-China ties has the potential of creating a win-win situation for both parties and particularly for Africa, given that China has invested huge resources to support Africa fight the coronavirus pandemic, compared with the rest of the world, which has not done much in this regard.

Dr Bakut Bakut, Director-General, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) for instance, believes that strategic engagement with China by African countries is key to tackling Africa’s health deficit and general security challenges, among others.

Bakut expressed this view at the recently held second quarter roundtable organised by IPCR’s Africa-China Research Unit with a view to interrogating issues pertaining to health insecurity and China-Africa relations.

He noted that the roundtable’s theme: ‘Vaccine War and Our Shared Future: Strengthening Africa-China Relations in the Era of Health Insecurity’ was apt, and explained that it was aimed at “providing the institute with insights into the interconnectedness of health security such as vaccine war, vaccine nationalism and vaccine passport, as they relate to China-Africa relations.”

“It is our hope that the harmonious engagement between Africa and China in responding to national, regional, continental, and global threats will bring out the desired result for the peace, security, development, and prosperity of Africa, China, and the global environment.

“While the international community and nation-states battle with the side effects of COVID-19, especially in curtailing global and domestic movement, terrorists and other criminal organisations are taking advantage of the situation to strengthen their capacity and position themselves to carry out violent attacks on soft targets,” Bakut added.

Prof. Mustapha Jamda, Deputy Provost, College of Health Sciences, University of Abuja, a specialist in Community Medicine and Public Health, in his presentation, stressed the need for African countries to reciprocate China’s vaccine and other aids donated by east Asian country during the pandemic to strengthen their relationship.

Speaking on the topic, ‘Vaccine War and Our Future: Strengthening Africa-China Relations in the Era of Health Insecurity,’ Jamda said, “Africa needs to reciprocate this gesture by not only sustaining but building on existing China-Africa relations and boost its research capabilities.

“When the rest of the world cannot, for various reasons, come to the aid of Africa, China, probably based on existing strong ties with Africa, is investing huge resources to support Africa fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“China is also donating vaccines and consumables and transferring production facilities and capabilities (technologies) to Africa.

“Africa and China both stand to gain from strong and sustainable long-term relations and should ensure justice and fairness in planning and execution of all treaties and deals.

“Africa needs to  show more diplomatic commitment to China and discharge its loan and debt servicing responsibilities and also develop its human resources and facilities to such a level that it will maximise opportunities from the China-Africa relations,” he added.

Prof. Ashish Jha, Dean of the United States’ Brown University School of Public Health, argues that, “shared transnational challenges are supposed to bring the world together,” which underscores the existing partnership between Africa and China that serves to strengthen their diplomatic relations, amid the war against COVID-19.

Jha, while writing in the January-February 2021 edition of the Foreign Policy periodical titled, ‘Systems Failure’, also advocated a Global Health Policy for the Pandemic Age.

He, however, noted that, “in the confusion that followed the pandemic, countries were in a free-for-all race toward the total lockdown of their borders, as they imposed travel bans and tightly guarded data about the novel disease”.

Dr Caleb Ayuba, IPCR’s Director of Defense and Security Studies, while concurring with Jha’s view, noted that in the heat of the COVID-19 diplomatic row between the U.S. and China, the former withdrew from the World Health Organisation, thus forfeiting and abdicating its traditional leadership role.

Ayuba stressed that “unless Africa deliberately cooperates with China and consciously aligns its interests with those of China, it might lose out in the diplomatic restructuring currently going on in international governance.

“China is a reliable African ally in the 21st century and a rising global power with the financial muscle, technical and industrial know-how that is expected to expeditiously rise to the occasion in responding to the pandemic, especially as it concerns Africa.

“China is becoming the epicentre of world civilisation and a potential super power in the global power matrix.

“China is dislodging the U.S. from its position of primacy in the international power arrangement.

“From the above, it is clear that it is critical that Africa takes seriously the urgency to move closer to China because compelling evidence exists to confirm that the global environment in its anarchic characteristic is gradually transforming from a unipolar to a multipolar world with China taking the lead in this geostrategic reconfiguration.

“China, as a long time ally and partner in Africa’s development goals, has shown commitment in confronting some of the critical challenges that are negatively affecting the African continent.

“China’s role in developing Africa’s infrastructure, including its rail transport sector, is well-known.

“Africa’s massive resource endowment should place her on a vantage point when negotiating with China on the imperative of funding and servicing Africa’s development initiatives,” he added.

Ayuba who spoke at the IPCR roundtable on the topic: ‘War against COVID-19: Building a Stronger Sino-Africa Relations,’ further observed that China and Africa should harness their energies and vast human and material resources toward fighting the pandemic.

“As Africa enters into the new partnership with China, this should result in Africa transforming and overhauling her health sector from one that is decrepit to a modern infrastructure equipped with the requisite equipment and technical know-how to confront the pandemic as Africa braces up to confront the challenges of the 21st Century,” he added.

Dr (Mrs) Bosede Awodola, Director of the National Peace Academy, who spoke on ‘Strengthening China-Africa Solidarity Against Vaccine Nationalism,’ noted that vaccine nationalism had not been beneficial to African countries, especially those with low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and who cannot afford to buy the vaccines for their citizens.

“It is until and when such cooperations occur that China and Africa can strengthen their solidarity against vaccine nationalism.

“It is also very important that China is mindful of the controversial debate on vaccine passport.

“China made the controversial announcement that it will prioritise visas for travellers who are vaccinated with China’s vaccines.

“Such passports could further encourage vaccine nationalism, whereby countries that can afford to purchase vaccines prioritise immunising their own populations over sharing doses with poorer countries,” she said.

Awodola, therefore, urged China to strengthen solidarity with Africa by showing more interest in the well-being and development of African nations, while African countries should also look inwards.

In September 2018, close to 50 African presidents and heads of government attended the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. African states were all hoping to get a share of the 60 billion dollars for development projects that President Xi Jinping announced at the conference.

When taking the podium, leaders used the high-level forum to define and defend China’s growing relationship with Africa.

Against the backdrop of mounting debt, trade deficits, and talk of neocolonialism, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is a critic of foreign aid, praised Beijing’s “win-win partnership” with Africa and commended the two sides’ growing economic and political partnership in an increasingly changing and multipolar world.

“Africa is not a zero-sum game. Our growing ties with China do not come at anyone’s expense.

“Indeed, the gains are enjoyed by everyone who does business on our continent,” Kagame said when he took the podium and spoke as the then Chair of the African Union.

Observers are, therefore, of the view that the deepening of diplomatic engagement between African countries and China and the strengthening of existing relations between them in the wake of the COVID-19 at the dawn of a multipolar world is key to ensuring a robust and mutually beneficial relationship between Africa and China.

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