After nearly three decades of extremely low political, economic and cultural engagement, Russia is indeed returning to Africa. For obvious reasons, Russia’s relations with Africa turned extremely worse as some diplomatic representations were unexpectedly cut, all cultural centers closed, and many projects were suspended. Of course, relations with many foreign countries have faded into the background compared with the challenges the country had to deal with in order to preserve its statehood.
Understandably, Russia has had to struggle with its post-Soviet internal and external problems especially during the first decade, from 1991 till 2000, which has been described by policy experts as the “Lost Decade on Africa”.
Still the second decade, 2000 to 2010, saw the reawakening with decades among the Kremlin, Government officials and academic researchers debated consistently whether “Russia needs Africa or Africa needs Russia” while African leaders were already turned towards Asian and the Gulf regions especially China and often asked why wake up the “Sleeping Giant Bear”. China became the best development suitor in Africa.
During this period, Russia seems to have attained relative political and economic stability. “As we regained our statehood and control over the country, and the economy and the social sphere began to develop, Russian businesses began to look at promising projects abroad, and we began to return to Africa,” noted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov early September when he addressed students and staff of Moscow State Institute for International Relations.
This process has been ongoing for the past 15 years. The return is now taking the form of resuming a very close political dialogue, which has always been at a strategic and friendly level, and now moving to a vigorous economic cooperation.
To reflect and consolidate these trends and in order to draw up plans for expanding consolidated partnerships with the African countries, President Putin initiated the Russia-Africa Summit last year during the BRICS summit in Johannesburg. The initiative was strongly supported. This October, it will be implemented under the co-chairmanship of the heads of Russia and Egypt, since this year Egypt is heading the African Union.
Further, from my research and monitoring, it is interesting to recall here that during the BRICS summit in Durban, on March 26-27, 2013, BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) discussed, among other topics, “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialization.”
The BRICS membership gives an additional competitive advantage. Firstly, none of the members of this association is tainted with a colonial past on the African continent, and second, the BRICS member countries as a matter of principle do not interfere in the internal affairs of African countries. None of the BRICS member countries spread democracy in Africa by force or impose their values with the help of expeditionary corps and air strikes.
The U.S. and the European Union (EU) monopoly in African countries is steadily coming to an end, as new players have come to the African continent, namely the BRICS countries. Russia is now the new force. Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is due to a desire to restore its previous influence and to build allies as it experiences growing criticism by Western countries.
During my long years of research has shown me that Africa is a huge continent that still requires economic development. Its active demographic growth and abundance of natural resources are creating conditions for the emergence of probably the world’s biggest market in the next few decades.
Today, Africa moves towards raising its social, economic, scientific and technological development, and is playing a significant role in international affairs. African states are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union (AU) and other regional and sub‑regional organizations across the continent.
Furthermore, African leaders keep in mind other key questions such as rising unemployment, healthcare problems and poor infrastructure development. That is, they now focus on measures toward realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
So, in the contemporary period, Russia and Africa have to, both at a bilateral level and in various multilateral formats, take significant new steps forward in new joint projects in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Besides, there are aspects of the diplomacy that really need focus, for example cultural and social spheres as well as the use of soft power. Indeed, the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit on October 23-24 should lay the necessary foundation for improving all these for a stronger partnership.
Quite recently, Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov assertively acknowledged “Africa is one of our priorities. Our political ties in particular are developing dynamically. But economic cooperation is not as far advanced as our political ties. We believe that we should promote joint activity in order to make broader use of the huge potential of Russian-African trade and investment cooperation.”
Political dialogue: Russia has intensified promoting political dialogue, including the exchange of visits at the top levels. Interaction between foreign ministries is expanding. Last year, 12 African foreign ministers visited Russia. According to my calculation, Sergey Lavrov and his deputy Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, have held talks with nearly 100 African politicians including ministers, deputies between January and September 2019. Bogdanov has interacted with all African ambassadors in Moscow.
Lavrov conducted bilateral dialogue with African countries at the UN in New York, between September 24 and 30, 2019. Lavrov held talks with Foreign Minister of Algeria Sabri Boukadoum, Foreign Minister of Morocco Nasser Bourita and Prime Minister of Sudan Abdallah Hamdouk among others.
During their conversation on the sidelines of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, all the sides discussed matters concerning the further expansion of multifaceted partnership, foreign policy collaboration in regional and international affairs.
With other questions such as the practice of democracy, Russia does support whatever regime is in power. While this makes its policy predictable, it does not encourage good governance and democratic practices in those countries that are severely challenged in these areas. Many other countries follow this practice and even countries like the United States, which often do speak out forcefully on behalf of good governance, are not always consistent.
Economic and investment cooperation: Africa truly is a continent of new opportunities and there is huge potential here for developing economic ties. Many see Africa’s growth primarily not because of aid, it is because of businesses and entrepreneurship, consistent efforts at creating wealth and employment. Africa in the 21st century does not need charity but wants to be an economic partner. African countries are not lacking the resources to boost the relationship, but the will power has always been put on hold or totally ignored.
Russia has shown strength in Africa in niche sectors such as nuclear power development, launching African satellites, and constructing energy and mining projects. It has been seeking to exploit conventional gas and oil fields in Africa; part of its long-term energy strategy is to use Russian companies to create new streams of energy supply. With regard to other economic areas, it may have to identify more sectors like this rather than compete head-to-head in a wide range of sectors with European Union countries, China, the United States, India, and others.
But U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said recently that “Russia has bolstered its influence with increased military cooperation including donations of arms, with which it has gained access to markets and mineral extraction rights. With minimal investment, Russia leverages private military contracts, such as the Wagner Group, and in return receives political and economic influence beneficial to them.”
While Russians are aware of the equal competitive conditions in the continent, Africans on the other hand view Russia as another fairly large trading partner and, probably a stabilizing and balancing factor to other foreign players. In terms of stringency of strategic outlook and activeness on economic engagement, the country is seriously lagging behind China, U.S., EU, the Gulf States, India and Brazil.
Trade: Russian aid, trade, and investment in Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, are modest. Russian exports to Africa have been growing modestly and reached $18.5 billion in 2017. Russian imports from Africa have been flat and totaled only $2.1 billion in 2017. This was well below Turkey’s trade with Africa in 2017.
Russian trade is heavily concentrated in North Africa, especially with Egypt. Noticeably, Russia’s relationship with North Africa is more significant. Nevertheless, Russia apparently wants to maximize the business relationship rather than the aid relationship. The problem is that Africa has little that Russia wants to buy.
It is, however, necessary to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation. Russia and Africa have to show not only an exceptional commitment to long-term cooperation but also readiness for large-scale investments in the African markets taking into account possible risks and high competition.
Equally important are African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market. Definitely, time is needed to solve all these issues including identifying and removing obstacles to mutual bilateral trade and investment.
Weapons and arms diplomacy: After the collapse of the Soviet era, Africa owed US$20 billion, later written off. This debt was due to weapon and arms delivery to Soviet allies including Ethiopia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and a few other African countries. Now, Russia is the largest seller of arms to Africa and is willing to sell to any country. This gives it a certain advantage as many Western countries prohibit arms sales to a few countries.
More recently, Russia has made significant arms deals with Angola and Algeria. Egypt, Tanzania, Somalia, Mali, Sudan and Libya have also bought arms from Russia. The Russians also provide military training and support.
In Africa, Russia seeks to guarantee security. In the classical sense, security guarantees imply something different. Russia has very warm, historically developed relations since their decolonization. This forms the theme for the Sochi summit: “For Peace, Security, and Development” which organizers explained would serve as the foundation of the final joint declaration.
Soft power interplay: Experts and members of the Valdai Discussion Club noted that soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era. Federation Council and State Duma, both houses of legislators, enacted a law that banned foreign NGOs from operating in the Russian Federation. As a result, African NGOs that could promote people-to-people diplomacy and support cultural initiatives as well to push for good image, is non-existent.
On education and culture. Simply cultural cooperation could be described as catastrophic. With education, Russia now offers a few state scholarships. Official figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pegged it at 15,000 students, only one-third of this receives Russian grants. The remaining two-thirds are fee-paying clients. The Ministry of Higher Education told me last month during interview discussions that there are nearly 21,000 African students while some in the far regions are still undocumented. This also means that African elite and the middle class pay approximately US$75 million annually to Russian educational institutions. Average tuition is US$5,000 per year.
Over the years, one of the key challenges and problems facing Russian companies and investors has been insufficient knowledge of the economic potential, on the part of Russian entrepreneurs, the needs and business opportunities of the African region. Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and quality analytical articles about the continent in order to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa. The media can, and indeed must be a decisive factor in building effective ties.
After several years of consistently constructive criticisms, Russian authorities have ignored media cooperation. Russia could use its media resources available to support its foreign policy, promote its positive image, disseminate useful information about its current achievements and emerging economic opportunities especially for the African public.
Russian media resources here, which are largely not prominent in Africa, include Rossiya Sevogdnya (RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia, Sputnik News and Russia Today), Itar-Tass News Agency and Interfax Information Service. Besides, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could use its accreditation opportunities to allow African media to work in Russia. While the Foreign Ministry has accredited foreign media from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asian countries, none came from sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of prioritizing media cooperation with Africa, high-ranking Russian officials most often talk about the spread of anti-Russian propaganda by western and European media in Africa.
Professor Vladimir Shubin, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, reiterated: “Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments about Russian culture, the economy, science and technology in order to form a positive perception of Russia abroad and a friendly attitude towards it as stated by the new Concept of the Foreign Policy.”
Russia-Africa Summit: Russia holds its first summit in October. Through this, Russia and Africa aim jointly at advancing relations to a fundamentally new level and a wider dimension. Of course, Africa is not fully satisfied with Russia due to its “diplomatic niceties” and largely unfulfilled pledges and promises. Russia already has a plethora of post-Soviet bilateral agreements that it is now implementing, with some degree of limitations, in various African countries. It’s clear that Russia might not make any public financial commitment as many foreign countries have done over the years. But Russia needs to demonstrate that it has a plan to engage Africa in a significantly greater way than it has in recent years.
According to my investigations, Russia would sign 23 new bilateral agreements with a number of African countries and issue a joint declaration that would lay down a comprehensive strategic roadmap for future Russia-African relations.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, while addressing the Russia-Africa Economic forum in July also added his voice for strengthening cooperation in all fronts. “We must take advantage of all things without fail. It is also important that we implement as many projects as possible, that encompass new venues and, of course, new countries,” he said.
Medvedev stressed: “It is important to have a sincere desire. Russia and African countries now have this sincere desire. We simply need to know each other better and be more open to one another. I am sure all of us will succeed if we work this way. Even if some things seem impossible, this situation persists only until it has been accomplished. It was Nelson Mandela who made this absolutely true statement.”
In July, President Vladimir Putin took part on third day of the International Parliamentarian Forum that also brought African legislators, emphasized that “the modern world needs an open and free exchange of views, confidence building and search for mutual understanding”.
Indeed, judging from the above discussions about the changing geopolitical relations, after the first Russia-Africa Summit, there has to be a well-functioning system and mutual willingness in the spirit of reciprocity to achieve a more practical and comprehensive results from the new relations between Russia and Africa. [Find more from the Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities” devoted to the first Russia-Africa Summit 2019.]
What Social Movements Mean for African Politics
Africa’s transition from a continent of colonial protectorates to independent states has been met with developmental and political challenges. From the 1960s, the political trajectory of Africa witnessed many regimes, regimes that have made their mark on the continent. The struggle for the legitimacy of state power between the African people and the regimes whose policies have shaped the political history of the continent oscillated between nationalistic interest and arbitrariness, at a time when the newly independent states needed a definite political direction.
For instance by 2002, the nationalistic government of Robert Mugabe had left Zimbabwe groveling in the drought stricken velds from bad economic policies. Today, Uganda is still reeling from the administrative recklessness of the Idi Amin regime. Considering the dark regimes that have been etched into the history of some states in Africa, democracy was a light that was to lead into a new dawn.
With democracy, came promises that would ensure the emancipation of dissident voices. The promises that democracy bore for African states were the development of state institutions and the improvement of state responses to the general will. For the people of Africa, the advent of democracy signified that a leader had to prove themselves, while for the leaders, it proved a paradigm shift in the management of power; a loss of the insularity of state politics. It meant that leaders had to show accountability, not only to their people, but also to external powers that existed as international institutions and hegemonic states with pro-democratic foreign policies.
Many issues with the African conception of democracy remain unresolved even despite many years of political transitioning for Africa’s largest economies. One of the issues that have remained unresolved in the African democracy is the perception of institutions by the individuals occupying them, another of these issues is the sensitivity of the African democracy to vibrant social movements where the protection of human rights is concerned.
In contemporary African democracies, there exists a new democratic space where social movements have engaged the political realities. One of the most empowering facts for social movements in Africa is the globalized effect of the social media and its pivotal role in ensuring government accountability.
In safe-guarding human rights and ensuring the protection of the rule of law in Africa, social movements have a huge role to play, as they are essential to achieving governmental accountability through a sustained engagement and with the power of collective insistence. In African states where the government is autocratic, social movements are a threat to state power and are thus met with violent resistance.
According to a study by Guillermo A O’Donnell, state repression have proven to be the constant response to social movements. This is because the greatest strategy of autocratic governments in stifling resistance that could lead to an explosive demonstration of popular discontent, is in the use of threats, intimidation and persecution. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2016, there was a violent suppression of peaceful protests in East Africa. In Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, the governments responded to peaceful protesters with deadly force which led to the death and the injury of many protesters. In 2020, the Nigerian government engaged protesters and activists during the EndSARS protests with the state security forces, which led to the deaths of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. The aftermath of the protests saw the Nigerian government intimidating activists that were thought to have been at the forefront of the End SARS protests and attempting to muzzle the media.
One of the greatest challenges of democracy in Africa is the imbalance of power in the governmental structure. The imbalance in the allocation of power between arms of government or in the monolithic representation of power has resulted in the overexploitation of power. This has made it difficult for the African states that are yet to transit to democratic status to do so, and for those that have transited, to perfect their democratic act.
The power imbalance which could be attributed in some African countries like Nigeria to constitutional deficiencies was demonstrated when Obasanjo who became Nigeria’s president in 1999, tried to adjust constitutional term limits so that he could contest elections for a third term. Social movements in Africa have toppled regimes in Africa and they have tremendous capacity to change the political course of a state.
This could be achieved when social movements are popular and when they represent a general interest, then the interest which a government might claim it represents become invalidated by the shift in the alliance of the people. This is usually the case when there is a common agreement that the government in power no longer serves the interest of the people who elected such government.
The fear that spurs an autocratic government into attempting to repress social movement is that it might become popular. Social movements are powerful and could be harnessed for political change since they signal the activation of the collective power. At the level of the social movement, it is not a call to negotiation, but a call to swift action which both the government and the people recognize as it becomes insistent.
Review: As Coronavirus Rise Past Three million, Africa Hopes for Vaccine
With its large population and fragile health systems, Africa has recorded more than three million Covid-19 cases, still less deadly as compared to other regions in the world, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). According to Africa CDC, Africa’s coronavirus tally was 3,021,769 as of January 10. The death toll was 72,121 and the number of recoveries was 2,450,492. The biggest number of coronavirus cases were reported from South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Ethiopia.
South Africa, with more than 1.2 million reported cases, including 32,824 deaths, accounts for more than 30% of the total for the continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. The high proportion of cases identified in South Africa, were attributed to more tests carried out than many other African countries.
African countries are expecting to get medical equipment, most especially vaccine, to help them out of the pandemic. These they expect from external sources. During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. Wang Yi emphasized that China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse spheres with Africa. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-European Union Cooperation in vaccine.
Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good.
Last December, during his annual media conference, President Vladimir Putin made it known that Russia’s readiness to help foreign countries including Africa. With regard to cooperation with other countries, it would boost the technological capabilities, enterprises to produce the vaccine, foreign countries would invest their own money into expanding their production capacities and purchasing the corresponding equipment, he explained.
Foreign countries would be investing in these projects: the enlargement of production facilities and the purchase of equipment. “As for cooperation with foreign countries: nothing is stopping us from manufacturing vaccine components at facilities in other countries precisely because we need time to enhance technological capacities of our vaccine manufacturing enterprises. This does not hinder vaccination in the Russian Federation in any way,” Putin said.
According to January report from the Tass News Agency, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has only registered the first Russian vaccine Sputnik V in Africa. “Russian Direct Investment Fund announces the first registration of Sputnik V in Africa. Ministry of Pharmaceutical Industry of Algeria registered Sputnik V on January 10th,” as follows from a post on their official Twitter account.
According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the registration was done under the accelerated Emergency Use Authorization procedure. This procedure was also used to register this vaccine in Argentina, Bolivia, and Serbia. The Fund said that supplies to Algeria would be possible thanks to its international partners in India, China, South Korea and other countries.
Writing under the headline “Africa’s Road to Recovery in 2021 Is a Fresh Start” published originally by Chatham House, Dr Alex Vines, the Director for the Africa Program at Chatham House, said many African countries would be much more seriously affected by the socioeconomic consequences of the global economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic. Even before Covid-19 hit, an increasing number of African countries were indebted and financially stressed.
He wrote that African debt would become a greater global concern in 2021 as many African states remain the world’s poorest and most fragile and have been hard hit by the economic and financial costs imposed by the pandemic.
In his analysis, Dr Vines further pointed out that 2021 will also see increased geopolitical rivalry for influence in Africa. This will include competition over generosity, ranging from positioning over debt cancellation to providing Covid-19 vaccines. China has its Sinopharm vaccine and has already signed up to Covax, the international initiative aimed at ensuring equitable global access. The Russians have their Sputnik V vaccine, the UK has its AstraZeneca and University of Oxford vaccine, and the US the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech (with Germany) vaccines.
Reports from Quartz also said Africa appears not part of the supply priorities of the Pharmaceutical companies producing the foremost Covid-19 vaccines. While Pfizer-BioNTech has offered to supply just 50 million Covid-19 vaccines to Africa starting from March to the end of this year, Moderna and AstraZeneca have not yet allocated supplies for Africa. AstraZeneca directed the African Union (AU) to negotiate with the Serum Institute of India for its vaccine to see if they can get a deal. Serum Institute of India has earlier obtained the license to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Quartz report said most African countries mainly relied on the COVAX co-financing public-private facility backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to enable rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for lower income countries. The facility promised access to vaccines for up to 20% of participating countries’ population with an initial supply beginning in the first quarter of the year to immunize 3% of their population. However, COVAX is underfunded, and these countries must look for other avenues to access more doses to vaccinate the 50% of their population in order to reach immunity.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several countries around the world have been making efforts to facilitate local vaccine development, clinical trials, and some had made upfront payments for vaccines to encourage early production. Outside of South Africa, most African economies have played too little or no role at all in the development of Covid-19 vaccines and had likewise made little or effort to secure vaccines while other economies around the world were doing so.
For instance, a globally respected genomic and infectious disease laboratory in Nigeria announced the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in September that is 90% effective against the virus in the preclinical trial but it has not been able to carry out clinical trials due to lack of support and funding.
While Kenya recently announced that through the COVAX facility, it ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with supply expected to start arriving in the second week of next month, several African countries are opting for vaccines from India, Russia, and China. This is despite skepticism about the vaccines from Russia and China in particular. Both countries rolled out their vaccines without phase 3 clinical trial results that confirm the vaccine effectiveness.
South Africa said it made a deal with Serum Institute India and will be getting 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for its health workers starting this month. The country, which is going is also in talks with Russia and China to procure vaccines. Currently, Guinea is testing the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V and has ordered 2 million doses.
Morocco has ordered 65 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, and AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute India. Egypt plans to buy 40 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, has already received 50,000 doses of the vaccine in December, and expecting another 50,000 in the second or third week of this month when vaccination will commence. Nigeria says vaccine access was in its discussions this week with the Chinese foreign minister during his visit to the county, according to the report from Quartz.
Besides the fact that Africa has registered its three million cases, Africa still behind the United States and European countries, and Asian countries such as China and India when it comes to the Covid-19 outbreak. For many African countries, it is still the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to Covid-19. Although it has abundant resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.
Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), regional organizations and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable development and integration. It sets as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significant tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
China’s Diplomacy in Africa: Being a civilian great power
Authors: Xu Guoying & Chen Yiling*
During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. According to the media reports, the visits is in line with China’s 30-year tradition of choosing Africa as the destination of all Chinese foreign ministers’ first overseas visit each year and demonstrated China’s close attention to its ties with African countries as well as its firm friendship with African people.
Noting the year 2021 marks the last year for the implementation of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Action Plan (2019-21), FM Wang’s visits aimed to deepen coordination and communication with the African side to cement the important consensuses and facilitate economic recovery in African countries while fighting the virus. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the close cooperation between China and Africa in fighting the pandemic has indicated the two sides’ firm determination to step up relationship with each other. This is more necessary because the traditional friendship between China and Africa would have reached new heights in the post-pandemic era while they also expected to exchange views on a new round of forum during this visit.
There is no doubt that China’s diplomacy has always adhered to the principle that all countries, large or small, are equal and that has advocated multilateralism, opposed power politics, promoted general democratization in international relations, and supported the United Nations to play its due role in international affairs. To that end, China needs the consensus and diplomatic supports from the countries in the Third World, particularly the African states. Given this, Chinese FM Wang reiterate that big countries should take the lead in abiding by the basic norms of international relations, not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, helping small and medium-sized developing countries, and assuming their international responsibilities in dealing with climate change and promoting sustainable development. Today, as the largest developing country, China is willing to fulfill its international obligations since its development is a growing force for peace, justice, and other developing countries as equal members of the international community.
This is not a lip-service but a solemn promise to play a more active role in international affairs and is willing to work with the country to safeguard world peace, stability, and prosperity. As a matter of fact, most states of Africa have admitted that China has adhered to the principle of equality between large and small countries, and made all the efforts to safeguard the interests of small and medium-sized countries and developing countries. Morally and practically, China has always stood with developing countries in international affairs. During his trip to Africa, Wang praised China’s close ties with the African states like the important members of the international community where all the members should treat each other as equals and achieve fruitful results in practical cooperation.
It is obvious that the leaders of the African states welcomed FM Wang’s visit and vowed to continue to support Beijing on the issues concerning China’s core interests, and inclusive of taking the opportunity of jointly building the Belt and Road and implementing the outcomes of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit with the view to taking mutual cooperation to a new level and building a community with a shared future for both sides in light of the economic and social development needs of the African people. Considering the huge African population and rich natural resources, China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with Africa in many traditional and new areas such as green environmental protection and blue ocean economics. Meanwhile, China fully understands the urgent desire of the African states to cope with climate change. The two sides agreed to sign the implementation agreement on the construction of low-carbon demonstration zones in South-South cooperation.
Since China’s relationship with Africa has been never exclusive, it calls on the cooperative programs with all the countries, in particular the European Union. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-EU Cooperation in vaccine. This is the good chance for both sides because they all want to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control and then it’s going to require a major, global effort to do so. As a matter of fact, China has reiterated that the virus knows no borders and has no interest in the nationality of its victims. As a result, it will overcome all barriers if we do not work together to counter it. In the face of the virus, we are without doubt a global community. But the key question is: Are we able to act like one? The answer is yes, but China and the EU need to work together to play a pivotal role in dealing with what is called the political, social, and ethical issue. It requires that political leaders manage to explain convincingly that it is advantageous for all of us if as a first step some people are vaccinated in all countries instead of all people in some countries?
Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good. This should be in Chinese and Europe’s interests too. There is a consensus between China and the EU that nurses in African countries be vaccinated as a first step, and soonest—needs a big PR push.
There’s little doubt that most Europeans want the vaccine as soon as possible. But the EU should also move fast to vaccinate especially doctors and nurses in as many affected and vulnerable African countries as possible. There are several compelling reasons to do this. First is the destructive nature of the virus. The longer it flourishes, the greater the chance of it mutating in ways that make it even more deadly, contagious, or just difficult to vaccinate against. Getting it rolled out quickly across Africa is crucial. Second, a World Bank study in last April showed that if the EU and European governments are really serious about their soft power, this is the time to share the vaccine in a way that equals to the global influence of China as it has already been sending vaccine for trials in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Now as for China’s relations with Africa, where it has built huge infrastructure projects on the back of loans to several countries and is extracting much-needed raw materials, the Chinese leadership has gone on the offensive. In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of African leaders that “African countries will be among the first to benefit” from a coronavirus vaccine, once its development and deployment is completed in China. Moreover, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has pledged that Beijing would extend $11 billion (€9 billion) in loans for vaccines to Latin American and Caribbean countries. In light of this, China and the EU should cooperate with each other in Africa rather than excluding the other side. For sure, all the more reason for China and the EU to seize the opportunity to boost their mutual soft power with a combination of philanthropy and a big dose of self-interest.
To that end, China has reiterated that it is not a military threat to the status quo since it has reaffirmed the defensive nature of its national defense policy as Chinese top legislative body adopted new revisions to the National Defense Law, renewing tasks and goals as well as cementing policies. Accordingly, it is quite sure that China will be more like to act as a civilian great power which is compatible with the goal of the European Union. Considering this, China and the EU would be able to continue their cooperative partners in trade and economics, transparent and open competitors in high technologies and possibly the systematic rivals.
*Chen Yiling, MA, a research fellow at the Center for International Relations, SIPA, Jilin University
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