China-Africa friendship above Western barbs

By Mark Kapchanga Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/17 21:48:41

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa (3rd R) and Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun (2nd R) attend a handover ceremony of anti-COVID-19 medical supplies in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 11, 2020. The Chinese government on Thursday donated a second batch of anti-COVID-19 medical supplies to Zimbabwe amid a spike in the number of cases in the southern African country in recent weeks. Photo: Xinhua

Before the eruption of the novel coronavirus, globalization was in distress. The open system of trade that had dominated the world economy for decades decelerated, first by the 2008 financial crisis and then by the US-launched trade war.

There are risks that the interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments worldwide will undergo a further strain as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic sweep across the globe.

Not long ago, the International Monetary Fund noted that there will be a sharp drop in global economic growth this year. Analysts who have written about the likelihood of an economic plunge also noted that this will especially hurt income and incur job losses across Africa - hence China-Africa ties are now more important than ever.

But there are strong grounds to believe that once the deadly virus is under control, the global economy will bounce back certainly fast.

As a show of fidelity to the cause that the effects of the pandemic are a function of networking among countries, a virtual special summit on China-Africa solidarity in fighting COVID-19 was held on Wednesday evening. 

The meeting comes at a prime time when China's contribution to fighting the pandemic around the globe has come under sharp focus. In Africa, for instance, China continues to send experienced medical staff to hard-hit countries, providing protective gear and offering humanitarian aid. 

Beyond these, the China-Africa meeting offers a crucial platform for African leaders to share their experiences on the novel coronavirus with China, where they are, the challenges they are facing, and where they anticipate to be. Crucially, the online assembly of the leaders will help them draw lessons from the China experience, including successes, possible challenges ahead, and how best the continent could come out of the crisis to the path of recovery.

It is worth remembering that just a little more than three months since first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in Africa, a number of countries are already reflecting on the easing of the restrictions they had introduced to tame the spread of the disease. The forum will thus inspire an information exchange where ideas will be shared on the modalities of relaxing the lockdown, if needed be.

Besides the management of the outbreak, the China-Africa summit puts African leaders in a strategic spot to discuss with the Chinese president on the ongoing development projects. They can also discuss the challenges they are facing in terms of implementation in the wake of the outbreak - and how they can be fast-tracked. It is at this point that African leaders will have to be bold enough and find a way of working out with China how to move forward those projects. 

Certainly, countries are under budgetary pressure and the timely payment of what they owe China, in terms of the principal and the interest, may be a problem worth paying attention to. With different countries having been affected differently by the pandemic, it will be imperative that the leaders introduce the debt settlement subject on the table. An agreeable payment plan may likely stimulate China to come up with favorable terms.

For some time, America has been using the debt issue to attack China-Africa relations claiming it was a new form of neo-colonialism. In a recent conference call with African and Africa-based journalists, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that China was imposing "an enormous amount of debt… on African countries… on incredibly onerous terms that will impact African people for an awful long time."

But even with these flimsy assertions, Africa's roads, airports, and seaports have undergone substantive upgrading. And thanks to the alleged Chinese debt, the continent is no longer suffering from unreliable, and costly energy.

We expect an intensified China-US rivalry as China engages African leaders on COVID-19 and as the Trump administration works tirelessly to drive a wedge between China and Africa. But be that as it may, the China-Africa friendship should not be distracted from the routine poking and criticisms from the West. 

As has been the norm, therefore, the summit should be guided by the tenet of win-win cooperation and mutual development where the determination of building a community with a shared future will never change over time - regardless of how things change in the international sphere.

The author is a researcher and expert on China-Africa cooperation based in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow him on Twitter @kapchanga.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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