Developing Nations Call for New Policies to Survive COVID-19
As reported in last week’s “Health Silk Road Update” by BRIX, there are growing signs that the major powers of the world are recognizing the necessity of global collaboration to control the COVID-19 pandemic and finally defeat it.
However, there are deep economic discrepancies between the conditions of the industrial and developed sector nations and those of the least developed and poor nations in the world. What can be applied as preventive and mitigation measures in certain countries are almost impossible in other countries due to the lack of economic and technological resource. These include building massive, modern infrastructures for water, power, transport, education and health care. These resources have to be made available as soon as possible to the poor nations of the world, especially Africa, otherwise, as Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali expressed it in an Op-ed in the Financial Times on March 25 “If Covid-19 is not beaten in Africa it will return to haunt us all”. He correctly argues att in his country and most countries in Africa where having clean drinking water is considered a luxury, it would be absurt to demand that the population comply with WHO recommendations such as washing their hands. The lack of such basic infrastructure, like water management systems, now becomes a matter of life or death for millions of Africans.
On March 29 the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published a report and proposal on first steps toward such a purpose. It called for a decision by industrial nations to unlock $2.5 trillion in total “for developing countries to deal with the coronavirus shock”. They proposed some $1 trillion in debt be cancelled on the model of the 1953 conference on German debt. In that case it was half of all German debt which was cancelled to enable post-War reconstruction. This UNCTAD idea immediately supports proposals in recent days from Argentina, and the demand on the G20 from 15 African countries, for a general debt-forgiveness.
UNCTAD also proposes reassigning IMF special drawing rights (SDRs) to give more SDRs to developing countries; and a $500 billion Marshall Plan for public health. The $2.5 trillion total, as UNCTAD points out, is half of what the G20 leading countries, in their March 27 teleconference, agreed they would be spending on their own economies’ survival and recovery.
“The economic fallout from the shock is ongoing and increasingly difficult to predict, but there are clear indications that things will get much worse for developing economies before they get better,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said. In February and March capital has run like a thief out of every developing nation without exception; their currencies have rapidly depreciated; their export earnings have plunged; the effective interest rates on their sovereign debt have jumped; they’ve lost tourism; and their commodities have plunged in price.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali spoke for them when he said — representing the necessity of debt forgiveness — that these nations absolutely lack the means to mount the big programs of hospital-building and -supplying and of economic recovery, which the developed countries are carrying out.
Life Before Debt: Africa Demands Debt Relief to Face Pandemic
The African nations are calling for a suspension of interest payments on their multilateral and sovereign bond debt due in 2020, so as to free up $44 billion to confront the coronavirus and its economic impact. A moratorium on principal as well as interest is urged for the “fragile” African nations, such as the Sahel nations, the Central African Republic, and others.
This call was made after a (virtual) crisis meeting of the continent’s Finance Ministers on March 19 and reiterated in a statement directed to the G20 before it began. The statement titled “Three Things the G20 Must Do To Support Africa in COVID-19 Pandemic” stated:
“Our nations will coordinate the logistics and delivery of testing equipment, they wrote, but we require international help to upgrade our health infrastructure, as well as support the existing facilities. For example, most pharmaceutical and medical supplies consumed in Africa are imported, they point out.”
The Ministers calculate Africa needs an immediate economic stimulus of $100 billion (in addition to $50 billion already committed by G20 nations and an additional liquidity line for the private sector and SMEs). The proposed waiver on interest payments would generate $44 billion towards that.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went further, in his “Three Point Proposal” to the G20. COVID-19 poses “an existential threat” to our already fragile and vulnerable economies, but Africa’s ability to respond is constrained by its “heavy debt burden.” He proposed a “Global Africa Health Emergency Package” be put together to help supply medical equipment, test kits, protective clothing to the continent, but on top of that, Abiy urged that all interest payments on government loans be written off (not just suspended).
“In addition, we suggest the remaining debt be converted into long-term, low-interest loans with 10 years grace period before payment. All debt repayments will be limited to 10% of the value of exports,” he further specified.
Africa needs China’s aid now more than ever
In an article in South Africa’s Independent Online, author Shannon Ebrahim, argues for closer cooperation between Africa and China to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. “China always said a friend in need was a friend indeed, and our continent needs China’s help more than at any other time in recent history, Ebrahim states. The article focusses on South Africa’s and the African continent’s pressing needs for protective material, medicines and ventilators to deal with the pandemic. The author states clearly that Europe and the United States, who are in “panicked state”, are not truly reliable in this crisis. Although, Ebrahim calls for closer cooperation with China, it is not a state of dependency, but enabling Africa to produce its needs. “South Africa has a strong manufacturing base and it would be worth investigating what capacity exists to build ventilators in joint ventures with Chinese companies. Ventilators require pumps, steel parts, plastic parts and hoses. Chinese factories are working 24/7 to build medical ventilators for Milan, Italy, New York, US, and other affected places.”
The author concludes the article with this serious statement: “Our only hope is that China will facilitate a stock of extra ventilators for South Africa, either as a donation or at reduced prices. As a senior Chinese official told me recently, only China and Cuba can help South Africa. China has already proven its resolve to help South Africa with much-needed supplies to assist in curbing the spread of the virus.. As China continues to prove itself a friend in times of grave need, not only to Africa, but countries around the world, it is developing a unique leadership position in the fight against Covid-19 which may, ultimately, alter global power relations. China is showing us the true meaning of ubuntu – I am because you are – and showing itself to be a responsible global leader not only concerned with the needs of its own citizens. The world will not forget the assistance which China provided when the stakes were high.”
Russia: UN General Assembly Should Adopt Declaration on Coronavirus
Russia is calling on the United Nations General Assembly to pass a declaration on global cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus, which includes the lifting of sanctions. The statement from the Russian UN Mission reads:
“On 26 March 2020 the Russian Federation submitted to the UN General Assembly an initiative to adopt a UNGA Declaration on solidarity in countering the coronavirus.
“The project is based on the principle of the UN Charter on cooperation of states that is reflected in the UN Declaration on Principles of International Law of 1970. The initiated Declaration, in particular, suggests recognizing the leading role of the WHO in combating the pandemic; envisages consent of states to cooperate with each other and with the WHO, i.a. [inter alia] in order to develop methods that should stop the spread and ensure treatment of the COVID-19 disease; provide assistance to the most vulnerable states, especially developing countries; abandon trade wars and unilateral sanctions adopted in circumvention of the UN Security Council; prevent discrimination of states, peoples and individuals with regard to the pandemic; counter financial speculations in basic necessity items; recognize the need to spread only reliable and science-based information about the pandemic. The Russian Federation has commenced collection of comments on the initiative.”
Increasing Signs of U.S.-China Cooperation against COVID-19 Pandemic
Some ice seems to have melted in the relations between China and the U.S. following the phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump on March 26, immediately after the G-20 virtual summit, indicating that global collaboration is indispensable for the fight against the Corona virus. President Xi pledged to continue China’s aid to other nations, including the U.S. in his offer of help. Xi called for an end to confrontationist relations of any kind. President Trump expressed appreciation for China’s provision of medical supplies, and cooperation in R&D for effective medicines, and other work against the epidemic. Trump spoke of how he has publicly made clear that the American people love and respect the Chinese people. Trump made a point of adding, that he will protect Chinese nationals in the U.S., including students.
Immediately following the call, the President tweeted “I just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the Corona virus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”
Among the key points they discussed, was Xi’s report that China had always been, and would continue to be, committed to sharing information on COVID-19 in an open and responsible manner, both with the World Health Organization and with many countries, including the United States. He emphasized the need for concerted international cooperation, and said he was pleased with the results of the March 26 virtual summit of the Group of Twenty.
President Trump asked Xi for a detailed report on the measures China has taken to prevent and control the spread of the coronavirus and said that what he has learned from China is very enlightening. He expressed the hope that the two can concentrate on working together against COVID-19 and not be distracted. For his part, Xi emphasized that U.S.-China relations are at an important juncture and that both nations would benefit greatly from cooperation rather than confrontation.
Speaking to reporters on March 28, Trump reported that in his call with Xi, “we talked about the experience that they had in China and all of the things that have taken place. And we learned a lot.. We’re going to be sent great data from China,” Trump added. “Things that happened that they see that—you know, they’ve had …an early experience, and we’re getting all of that information. Much of it has already been sent. It was sent yesterday and sent to our scientists to study.”
Project Airbridge between China and the U.S.
President Trump announced on March 29 the “Project Airbridge,” a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) arrangement to rapidly distribute supplies, including coming in from China. A planeload of medical supplies arrived in New York on March 30 from Shanghai. The plane carried 130,000 N95 masks, nearly 1.8 million other face masks and gowns, more than 10.3 million gloves, and more than 70,000 thermometers. A handful of American healthcare distributors purchased the supplies, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency brought them in on a Shanghai-New York flight.
This operation is part of Project Airbridge, in which FEMA covers the shipping. This equipment was all produced in China and was available for the United States. New York had requested more equipment from China, but the question was how to get it to the U.S. with the current restrictions on air travel. FEMA stepped in to take the load, which was no doubt a result of the March 26 telephone discussion President Trump had with President Xi Jinping on the matter last week.
A Franco-Chinese Air Bridge to Help against COVID-19
On March 28, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Health Minister Olivier Veran, and Health Agency Director Jérôme Salomon organized a 90-minute Internet briefing to reassure the French people and explain what they are doing concretely to ensure that millions of masks and thousands more ICU beds with ventilators will be secured by the government to protect the population in the weeks ahead.
Prime Minister Philippe announced that France has ordered 1 billion masks from different providers. First, an “air bridge” has been set up between France and China, for the delivery of 600 million face masks, and also 74 billion FFP2 respiratory masks (equivalent to N95 masks), to cover the weekly need of 40 million. Four airplanes have been chartered, which will deliver 10 million masks at a time, which will be added to 8 million each week that France has begun to produce.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had an exchange with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, on March 26. Beijing acknowledged France’s opposition during the G7 video conference the day before to the incriminating prejudiced statements proffered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He wanted participants to use the expression ‘Wuhan virus’ [to refer to COVID-19] in the final communiqué…. According to Pompeo, to not acknowledge [China’s] responsibility would be equivalent to a passive complicity.
China Continues to Help Greece and Serbia in Coronavirus Crisis
China continues assistance to Greece and Serbia in their fight against the coronavirus. On March 30 an Aegean Airlines cargo plane delivered more than 1.7 million surgical masks, face shields, and uniforms, from China. The supplies were donated by the Onassis Foundation and Greek shipowners. Two more flights are expected this week carrying medical supplies, including a total of 13.5 million surgical masks.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, in an interview with TV Prva on March 29, said China has helped Serbia to fight the coronavirus. “If you are asking who helped us most, it was China and not Europe. We expect greater assistance from Europe. We are on the European path, but we are neither deaf or blind; we will protect Serbian interests and cooperate with China, Russia, the United States, and everyone, because this is where Serbia’s interests are,” he said.
Chinese Health Equipment for the Czech Republic
On March 20, an Antonov AN-124 from Shanghai, landed at Vaclav Havel airport with 100 tons of medical equipment, including 1.1 million FFP-2 level respiratory face masks for healthcare providers. According to Reuters, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek thanked all involved, including China’s ambassador who attended the arrival. The shipment is the first in a series of direct air deliveries from China which should continue over the next at least six weeks, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said. As of March 26, all citizens are required to cover their noses and mouths in public. There are currently 2,279 cases, with 11 deaths.
This comes despite the fact that the Mayor of Prague in 2019 disrupted Czech-China relations by withdrawing the “sister city” relations with Beijing and establishing similar relations with Taipei. China strongly protested this breach of the One China policy, but has maintained relations with the central government, which has likewise maintained friendly relations with China.
China May Begin New Economic Stimulus Measures in April
China may begin to carry out new stimulus measures as soon as April, as implied by comments by China’s top leadership made at a key meeting, Zhou Lanxu reported in China Daily on March 30. The aim would be to achieve economic development goals and to shore up domestic demand, and to protect China’s economy against the Coronavirus shock.
Four measures were outlined: China will 1) modestly raise its budget deficit ratio; 2) issue special sovereign bonds; 3) bolster the scale of local government special bonds; and 4) guide lending rates lower, the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee said in a statement issued Friday.
Wu Chaoming, chief economist at Chasing Securities, said the authorities may carry out the announced policies soon, to minimize economic losses and achieve this year’s economic and social development goals. Two or three of the following policy tools will likely come out soon: guiding the benchmark interest rate lower; reducing the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves; and lowering the benchmark deposit rate, which has remained unchanged since late 2015, Wu said. All these measures will “encourage social lending, ease cashflow pressure among small businesses, and help proactive fiscal policies take effect, Wu said.”
Zhang Bin, senior researcher with the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said issuing special sovereign bonds would be able to play a key role on the fiscal front, in alleviating the financial problems of households and companies. Money raised by special sovereign bonds can also be used in infrastructure investment, especially in public or quasi-public projects, such as investments in transportation networks, public health, sanitation projects, and environmental protection.
CPCCC Meeting Calls for Building New Infrastructure
A meeting of the Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party held earlier in March called for accelerated efforts to build modern infrastructure, such as the 5G network and data centers, which prompted market gains in related economic sectors. According to China.org.cn, a report by the country’s state broadcaster, China Central Television, listed several areas of the new infrastructure: 5G, ultra-high-voltage power facilities, inter-city transport, vehicle charging stations, big data centers, artificial intelligence, and industrial Internet.
It cited Huang Qunhui, Director of the Institute of Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that “this was not the first time the term ‘new infrastructure’ had been put forward, as the Central Economic Work Conference — a key annual meeting to plan for the national economy — had called for such efforts in late 2018. Huang said new infrastructure should be seen as new public facilities that serve the needs of new industrialization, as opposed to the traditional infrastructure such as railways, roads, and airports.
China.org.cn also reports that “as of March 10, 2020, twenty-five provincial-level regions had announced a total of 49.6 trillion yuan ($7 trillion) planned spending for this year, according to figured assembled by China Economic Weekly.” In the first two months of 2020, China’s fixed asset investment had dropped 24.5% year-on-year, and infrastructure investment dropped 30.3%, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Xi Jinping Tour in Zhejiang Promoting Post-Covid-19 Economic Activity
On Sunday, March 29, President Xi Jinping visited east China’s Zhejiang Province (situated just south of Shanghai). He was there to inspect the resumption of work and production in the region, which is proceeding quickly. Zhejiang has become one of China’s most prosperous regions after the recent economic reforms and is one of China’s major foreign trade provinces. Its economy is based in electro-mechanical industries, chemical industries, textiles and construction materials.
Xi visited the Ningbo-Zoushan port area, which is the one of the world’s largest containerized shipping ports, and also the Chuanshan port area, which recently opened a port railway line of about 29 km going to Zhongzhai. He also went to the Ningbo industrial park, which includes manufacturing of high-precision auto gears and gear parts, livestock equipment, masonry tools, water pumps, plastic and rubber molds, and paper manufacturing. Xi’s visit was described in Chinese media as a signal that the Chinese economy is coming back, and that the government will be forcefully backing the relaunching of China’s industrial capacity after two months of standstill forced by the strict measures taken to fight the Coronavirus.
In early March, Vice Minister of Industry Xin Guobin announced that outside of Hubei province, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak, the work resumption rate is about 60% for small- and medium-sized firms, and over 95% for larger firms. At a State Council briefing, he confirmed that China plans to coordinate with other countries to move forward with business resumption to a semblance of normalcy, even in the face of uncertainty about the pandemic.
According to Asia Times, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has issued a statement, circulated to relevant economic regulators at all levels in China, urging them to offer financial and other assistance to industry, and to be responsive to the call for a coordinated work resumption of industrial supply chains.
For the full background information, please read our article “China Unleashes the Health Silk Road against the Corona Pandemic”!