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