Solidarity, Cooperation: The Only Way Tackling COVID-19 Crisis

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By Tan Jian, Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia

The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted the sternest slump in almost a century and is posing massive harm on the socio-economic life of the global population. On March 20, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced four mega global trials dubbed as SOLIDARITY in a bid to fight against COVID-19 pandemic.   

As part of the global efforts, on June 17, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 was held while the worldwide battle against corona virus is at a critical moment.

This Summit was a joint initiative between China, South Africa in its capacity as the Chair of the African Union (AU), and Senegal as the Co-Chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

Chinese President, Xi Jinping chaired the summit where he gave a keynote speech entitled “Defeating COVID-19 with Solidarity and Cooperation”.

The Summit was attended by African leaders including Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki.

United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and World Health Organization (WHO), Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom were invited as Special Guests to the Summit.

The leaders had an in-depth exchange of views and reached extensive consensus on supporting Africa’s COVID-19 response and strengthening China-Africa and international cooperation against the virus. The Summit issued a joint statement which reflects the common position of China and Africa on a series of major issues.

As comprehensive strategic and cooperative partners, China and Africa have granted support to each other and fought shoulder to shoulder in the face of COVID-19, setting a fine example for international cooperation against the virus and elevating China-Africa ties to a new height.

President Xi stated that China and Africa would stay committed to fighting COVID-19 together, enhancing cooperation, upholding multilateralism and taking their friendship forward. The important influence and far-reaching significance of this Summit will be long-lasting.

First, the Summit further promoted China-Africa solidarity against COVID-19. At the Summit, Chinese and African leaders agreed to step up joint efforts to combat the disease and build a China-Africa community of health for all.

China and Africa are good friends, good partners and good brothers, striving together along the shared road for prosperity and better life. China sent its first medical team to Africa as early as in 1963.

Until now, China has provided medical aid to more than 50 African countries. When the Ebola epidemic broke out in West Africa in 2014, China was the first country to deliver emergency relief materials and funding and send over 1000 public health experts and medical professionals to provide medical assistance to African people living in the affected areas.

In recent years under the framework of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China-African collaboration in health area was integrated into the 10 cooperation plans between China and Africa announced in 2015 and the 8 major initiatives for China-Africa cooperation declared in 2018.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and African countries have stood by each other through thick and thin. At the height of China’s battle against the virus, African countries offered their invaluable moral and material support.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent two letters of solidarity to President Xi Jinping and held a phone conversation, which reflects the deep-rooted fraternity and mutual support defined by the Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership between China and Ethiopia.

When Africa was challenged by the outbreak, China initiated the broadest Africa-oriented humanitarian emergency response ever since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The government, enterprises and social groups of China have mobilized swiftly and organized huge amount of medical assistance to over 50 African countries (including Ethiopia) and the AU, more than 30 video conferences with Chinese medical experts, and nearly 400 training sessions for African medical professionals.

China has also sent medical expert teams totaling 148 people to 11 African countries, among which Ethiopia is one of the first 2 destinations receiving the team.

As President Xi said, China has and will continue to do whatever it can to support Africa’s response to COVID-19. China will continue to help African countries by providing supplies, sending expert teams.

China will start ahead of schedule the construction of the Africa CDC headquarters in Addis Ababa, the political capital of Africa this year.

China affirmed to work with Africa to fully deliver the health care initiative adopted at the FOCAC Beijing Summit, and speed up the construction of China-Africa Friendship Hospitals and the cooperation between paired-up Chinese and African hospitals.

China pledged that once the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit.

Second, the Summit further demonstrated the strong mutual support underpinning the China-Africa relations. Within the FOCAC framework, China will cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020.

For those 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, by such means as further extending the period of debt suspension, to help them tide over the current difficulty.

China encourages 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 to work out arrangements for commercial loans with sovereign guarantees.

To cushion the impact of COVID-19, it is important for China and Africa to strengthen Belt and Road cooperation and accelerate the follow-ups to the FOCAC Beijing Summit. Greater priority needs to be given to cooperation on public health, economic reopening, and people’s livelihood.

China will also work with the UN, WHO and other partners to assist Africa’s response to COVID-19, based on the respects for the will of Africa. China supports Africa in its effort to develop the African Continental Free Trade Area and to enhance connectivity and strengthen industrial and supply chains.

China will explore broader cooperation with Africa in such new business forms as digital economy, smart city, clean energy, and 5G.

Third, the Summit further boosted global confidence in an early victory against the virus. Recently, multilateralism is facing headwinds, and some country attempts to politicize the virus, focusing on smearing China rather than curbing domestic outbreak, which undermined WHO-led global response to COVID-19.

China and Africa have voiced their vibrant call of justice, urging the international community to firmly uphold multilateralism, to joint support for the leading role of the UN and WHO in the global response to COVID-19, and stressed the need to oppose politicizing and labeling COVID-19 and avoid racial discrimination and ideological bias.

African leaders commended President Xi’s sincere support to Africa’s COVID-19 response and commitment to the life and health of the Chinese and African people.

As pointed out by some participating leaders, unlike those who only pay lip service, China genuinely thought for Africa and had offered sincere help to Africa. It contributed a lot to Africa’s fight against the disease and spearheaded international anti-epidemic cooperation.

The important consensus reached at the Summit, in keeping with the trend of the times, will help promote global response to the virus, safeguard the common interests of China and Africa and the entire developing world, and uphold multilateralism and international equity and justice.

As a message of unity and cooperation to bolster international confidence in defeating the virus, China hosted the High-level Video Conference on Belt and Road International Cooperation with the theme of “Belt and Road International Cooperation: Combating COVID-19 with Solidarity” on 18 June 2020.

As one of the few representatives from Africa, Foreign Minister Gedu attended this conference and delivered a speech. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that the outbreak had rather highlighted the strong resilience and vitality of Belt and Road cooperation than reversed its momentum.

We should promote the joint development of a “Silk Road of Health”, take good care of foreign nationals like our own, and provide timely medical service to and protect those working for the Belt and Road and other cooperation projects.

We need to harness new industries and business models emerging in the course of COVID-19 response, strengthen cooperation in 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, and push forward the building of the digital Silk Road.

We must stay committed to an open world economy, defend the multilateral trading system, and enhance trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, in an effort to foster a more open, inclusive and balanced economic globalization that benefits all.

The battle against COVID-19 acts like a mirror, reflecting the long lasting China-Africa relations and the consolidated China-Africa friendship. Prime Minister Abiy stated: “Building on our existing partnership is key as we work to overcome the pandemic induced threats to our health & economic systems”.

With joint efforts aiming at a China-Africa community of health for all, the challenge posed by the pandemic can be transformed into the opportunity for cooperation, expand wider space for building a closer China-Africa community with a shared future. After a storm comes a rainbow. China-Africa cooperation and friendship will engage stronger after COVID-19!