The previous week witnessed two major summits dealing with the global fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic in the context of continuing and expanding the role of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a vehicle for international cooperation and economic development.
The first summit was held on June 17 under the title “The Extraordinary China-Africa Solidarity Summit Against COVID-19” and was jointly hosted by China’s President Xi Jinping, African Union 2020 Chairman, Cyrill Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, and Macky Sall, President of Senegal, who is currently head of FOCAC (Forum on China Africa Cooperation https://www.focac.org/eng/). Other African leaders participated. Among the participants were also U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
President Xi Jinping gave the keynote address (read the full text here!)
Xi stressed the close relationship China has always had to Africa and promised additional assistance in the present crisis. Chinese teams have just returned from extensive visits and consultations in Sudan and Algeria. Xi said: “Both China and Africa face the formidable task of combatting the virus while stabilizing the economy and protecting people’s livelihoods. We must always put our people and their lives front and center. We must mobilize necessary resources, stick together in collaboration, and do whatever it takes to protect people’s lives and health and minimize the fallout of COVID-19….
“China will start ahead of schedule the construction of the African Center of Disease Control (CDC) headquarters this year. China will 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. Together, we will build a China-Africa community of health for all.”
Xi made an important announcement during his speech. “Together, we will build a China-Africa community of health for all. We pledge that once the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit”, he said
Xi also said that China would also work to uphold the commitments made under the Belt and Road Initiative for Africa’s infrastructure development and would 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. He also promised to work with the global community to further extend the period of debt suspension. He would also encourage Chinese financial institutions to respond to the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative and to “hold friendly consultations with African countries according to market principles to work out arrangements for commercial loans with sovereign guarantees.”
Concerning the debt relief proposed by China, it is interesting that studies have showed that the allegations that China is creating a “debt-trap” for the BRI countries have been shown to be completely baseless upon close examination. Both BRIX investigations and studies made by renowned research centers testify to the opposite. See separate article on this matter.
African Medical Supplies Platform
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his appreciation for China’s help and emphasized the serious lack of proper medical equipment in most African nations. He praised the creation of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), which will be managed by AfriExImBank and its Chinese counterpart. The AMSP is an online portal that will enable African countries access large quantities of critical Covid-19 response supplies at competitive prices. “We would like to ask China to consider support for the provision of diagnostic and therapeutic supplies over a period of six months. This support would be managed by AfriExImBank in collaboration with its counterpart in China. This would allow several African countries to procure goods from China,” said President Ramaphosa.
President Ramaphosa also underlined the importance of debt relief for African nations during these trying times and called for an economic stimulus package for Africa. He concluded his statement saying: “Sino-Africa solidarity and better multilateral cooperation is key to winning the battle against this pandemic. Through this and other platforms, let us continue to strengthen the bonds of solidarity that exist among us and take collective action to secure the future of humanity.” Read the full text of the remarks of President Ramaphosa!
The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who attended the summit in his capacity as a member of the Bureau of the Assembly of the AU Heads of State and Government thanked China for support China has given to African countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I wish to thank the Chinese government for the swift response to provide Kenya and the rest of the continent with medical supplies including testing kits, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), and pharmaceuticals to help us fight, not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the locust invasion,” President Kenyatta said.
President Kenyatta also called for strengthening Africa’s disease control capacity, deepening of China-Africa cooperation in manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and health equipment as well as creation of open trade corridors for health commodities in order to reduce disruption of the global production and supply chains. He identified loss of jobs and reduction of revenues as key impacts of Covid-19 on African economies and appealed for more economic interventions by China.
Responding to President Kenyatta’s address, President Xi congratulated Kenya for ensuring the uninterrupted flow of cargo from the Port of Mombasa into the East African hinterland via the Standard Gauge Railway. The decision by Kenya, the Chinese leader said, had helped keep trade flowing in the region despite the cargo movement restrictions occasioned by Covid-19 containment measures.
To learn more about the outcome and conclusions of this Extraordinary Summit, read the joint statement!
The Belt and Road Initiative is alive and kicking
The day following the conclusion of the China-Africa Summit, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi presides over a high-level video conference on Belt and Road international cooperation on June 18. The conference was titled: “Belt and Road International Cooperation: Combating COVID-19 with Solidarity”. Foreign ministers or officials at ministerial level from 25 countries from Asia, Africa and Europe attended the video conference. Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner also participated in the event.
The meeting, jointly organized by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce and the National Health Commission. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the conference has as its goal to follow up and implement the consensus of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in 2018, promote Belt and Road partners to strengthen international cooperation in fighting the pandemic, carry out experience exchange and policy coordination for the resumption of work and production, and promote high-quality joint pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative.
President Xi sent a written message to the conference in which he said China will work with its partners to develop the Belt and Road into a model of cooperation for meeting challenges through unity. “The Belt and Road will also be a model of health for protecting people’s safety and well-being, a model of recovery for restoring economic and social activity, and a model of growth for unlocking development potential,” Xi said.
He stressed that the video conference is “a highly important meeting that gives Belt and Road cooperation partners an opportunity to discuss a collective response to COVID-19, advance Belt and Road cooperation, and strengthen international solidarity and cooperation”.
Turning to the economic effects of the Corona pandemic he stated that the sudden attack of COVID-19 has posed a grave threat to the lives and health of people across the globe and has dealt a heavy blow to the world economy, and caused tough economic and social challenges for some countries, developing ones in particular. However, he emphasized: “To contain the virus, countries have taken robust and effective measures, specific to their national context. On top of that, many countries are striving to resume economic and social development.” He pledged that China will do what it can and contribute its share to an early global victory against COVID-19, and the recovery of the global economy “Be it in taming the virus or in achieving economic recovery, we cannot succeed without solidarity, cooperation, and multilateralism. The right approach to tackling global crises and realizing long-term development is through greater connectivity, openness, and inclusiveness,” he said.
“This is where Belt and Road international cooperation can make a big difference,” he said, adding that China is committed to peaceful development and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in his speech, called on the partners involved in the Belt and Road Initiative to step up public health cooperation to make greater contributions to the global fight against COVID-19. He Highlighted the importance of the “Silk Road of health”, and that the BRI partners should continue to support the World Health Organization in playing a leading role in coordinating the global response to COVID-19.
According to the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, China’s Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to strengthen the push for universal health coverage.
“It can foster improvements in health and wellbeing, by supporting economic development and improving the determinants of health in participating countries, and in supporting robust, accessible health systems and public health infrastructure,” he said in his speech to the conference.
“The ‘Health Silk Road’ has the potential to support partnerships to contain COVID-19, to improve infrastructure and access to much needed health services including diagnostics, and treatment, to strengthen health systems under strain because of the pandemic,” he said.
Tedros praised China’s commitment to sharing any vaccine upon development to help tackle the COVID-19 disease globally.
Minister Wang underlined the need for the BRI countries to strengthen connectivity to provide a solid underpinning for the economic recovery, accelerate the building of a global partnership on connectivity and keep industrial and supply chains secure, open and stable, and get key Belt and Road infrastructure projects restarted as early as possible.
As the essence of Belt and Road cooperation is the principle of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits and the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and transparency, Wang said BRI countries should uphold multilateralism and advocate openness and inclusiveness.
Wang gave a condensed report on the achievements of the BRI in the past year and earlier this year before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. He said that trade and economic exchanges have continued to expand among BRI countries. Trade in goods between China and BRI partners topped $1.3 trillion last year, up by 6 percent year-on-year, and Chinese investment in Belt and Road countries increased by $15 billion. In the first quarter of this year, trade between China and BRI partners rose by 3.2 percent, and direct investment by China went up by 11.7 percent on a yearly basis.
“We are ready to start technical communication and coordination with Belt and Road partners as soon as possible to discuss the establishment of fast-track lanes for cross-border flows of people and goods,” he added.
According to Chinese media other plans for strengthening cooperation include holding a transportation ministers’ video conference with Belt and Road partners to maintain the smooth functioning and security of international industrial and supply chains and logistics systems, stepping up cooperation with Belt and Road partners in innovation, promoting Silk Road e-commerce, and advancing cooperation in smart cities and green development.
The final statement, a copy of which was obtained by BRIX, (see below) made many recommendations regarding the role of connectivity and cooperation among the BRI countries to jointly fighting the Corona pandemic and recover and further build the world economy through the Belt and Road Initiative.