A Promising Future for Post-COVID China-Africa Cooperation
Ambassador Chen Xiaodong
6 January 2021
COVID-19 has caught the world by surprise in 2020. It has dealt a severe blow to the world economy, the global industrial chain and people-to-people exchanges. China-Africa cooperation has also been affected by the virus. However, some forces has recently taken advantage of this situation and hyped up the claims that China is placing less importance on Africa and that China-Africa cooperation is going backwards. It goes without saying that none of these claims are in line with the facts.
China and Africa have joined hands to fight the virus, and the China-Africa community of health for all has emerged stronger. Since the start of COVID-19, China and Africa have stood out for each other and fought the virus side by side. We successfully held the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19. As of early December, China has sent eight medical expert groups and teams to 16 African countries to share experience in fighting COVID-19, established pairing-up cooperation mechanisms with 46 hospitals in 42 African countries, and provided urgently-needed medical supplies to almost all African countries. The construction of the headquarter of Africa CDC has also kicked off on schedule. China is committed to ensuring the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in developing countries once the they go through the research and development process and are put into use. We will actively consider providing vaccine assistance to African countries in need to help Africa win the battle against the virus at an early date.
China-Africa trade and investment cooperation is resilient, and the China-Africa community of development for all achieved further growth. Although, with COVID-19, the trade volume between China and Africa dropped by 12.17 percent and 10.6 percent year-on-year in the first 10 and 11 months of this year respectively, the decline is narrowing month by month and China is expected to become Africa’s top trading partner for 12 years in a row. In a medium to long-term analysis, China-Africa trade volume reached 208.7 billion US dollars in 2019 and China’s accumulated FDI in Africa reached 49.1 billion US dollars, up 20 times and 100 times respectively from 20 years ago. The share of China-Africa trade in Africa’s total foreign trade is steadily increasing, from 12.9 percent in 2017 to 14.7 percent in 2019. With a population of 1.4 billion and over 400 million middle-income earners, China’s total import in goods are expected to exceed 22 trillion US dollars in the coming decade, and Africa will benefit even more from China, which is the world’s most promising large market.
It is worth noting that during the pandemic, Chinese enterprises used digital platforms such as online promotion activities and live streaming to help Africa export more of its specialty products to China. Cross-border e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba Group’s World Electronic Trade Platform (eWTP) has given products from Ethiopia, Rwanda and other countries direct access to Chinese consumers. In May last year, 3,000 packages of Gorilla’s Coffee from Rwanda were swept up in a second on Taobao Live. The third China International Import Expo held in November last year achieved a total intended turnover of 72.62 billion US dollars. Purchases from developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America totaled an intended turnover more than double the amount of the second CIIE, among which South Africa also signed a new record high amount of contract, with a total value of more than 210 million US dollars.
China and Africa have jointly pursued high-quality Belt and Road cooperation with fruitful results in various fields. China has built more than 6,000 kilometers of railroads and 6,000 kilometers of highways, nearly 20 ports, more than 80 large-scale power facilities, more than 130 medical facilities, 45 stadiums and more than 170 schools in Africa. The African Union Conference Center, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, the Maputo-Katembe Bridge and other China-assisted projects that bear the “dream of a century” of African countries have been completed. A cooperation plan between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the African Union on jointly promoting the building of the Belt and Road Initiative has been signed recently, which injected fresh impetus for high-quality Belt and Road cooperation between the two sides.
To help African economies address the impact of COVID-19, China has signed debt relief agreements with 12 African countries, exempted interest-free loans to 15 countries due at the end of 2020, and actively encouraged the international community, especially the G20, to further extend the debt relief period. The Export-Import Bank of China, as the bilateral official creditor, has signed debt relief agreements with 11 African countries.
President Xi Jinping also proposed during the 75th UN General Assembly that China aims to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. According to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy (AEI), China invested more in renewable energy than fossil energy in Belt and Road countries in the first half of 2020. The prospect of building a Green Silk Road between China and Africa is promising.
China-Africa peace and security cooperation has been further promoted to help “silencing the guns” in Africa. China has established a “3+1” coordination mechanism with three African members of the UN Security Council, including South Africa. We actively support South Africa’s rotating presidency of the Security Council, and firmly support Africans morally and politically to address African issues in the African way.
China is making good on its pledged free military aid of 100 million US dollars to the AU. We supported the building of African permanent and rapid response forces and provided free military aid to the Joint Force of the Group of Five of the Sahel through multilateral and bilateral channels to help maintain stability in the Sahel region. More than 2,100 Chinese peacekeepers are performing duties in six UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, making an important contribution to maintaining security and stability in Africa and enhancing Africa’s security capacity.
The high-level FOCAC meeting in 2021 is on track to open a new chapter of building a closer China-Africa community with a shared future post COVID-19. Next year is the opening year of China’s 14th Five-Year Plan. China will step up efforts to foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. African countries will officially launch the AfcFTA and make every effort to implement the first ten-year implementation plan of AU Agenda 2063. China and Africa face new and significant opportunities to deepen cooperation. China is ready to work with Africa to prepare for the coming FOCAC session, better plan the outcomes, further promote China-Africa cooperation in health, resumption of work and production and improvement of people’s livelihoods and expand cooperation with Africa in the digital economy, smart cities, clean energy, 5G and other new industries. We are ready to continue our support for Africa’s infrastructure development and industrialization, support the building of AfcFTA, deepen free trade cooperation and connection between our industrial and supply chains. We are also ready to discuss with Africa a strategic cooperation framework to address climate change, among others.
It has been proved that those who seek to sensationalize the downturn of China-Africa relations and cooperation deliberately turned a blind eye to the achievements of our cooperation and ignored the fact that their own countries’ input with Africa has declined drastically. Their claims are nothing but sour grapes, and their aim is to drive a wedge into China-Africa relations and undermine China-Africa cooperation. However, the Chinese and African peoples can clearly tell right from wrong. Nothing and nobody can erase the achievements of China-Africa cooperation or denigrate China-Africa relations.
The truth is, the impact of the virus on China-Africa cooperation is only temporary. China-Africa friendship has been standing strong for a long time, and our win-win cooperation will never stop. China is expected to be the only major economy with positive growth this year. Africa is also actively promoting economic recovery and reconstruction. We believe that China-Africa cooperation post COVID-19 will have brighter prospects and greater potential, and a closer China-Africa community with a shared future will bear more fruits.