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Opinion
China strengthens online global communication to consolidate international recovery efforts
By Zheng Guichu  ·  2020-07-26  ·   Source: NO.31 JULY 30, 2020
Chinese medical experts hold a video conference with their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah on June 16 (XINHUA)

While the trajectory of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and its economic and political fallout remain unclear, it can be outlined that the pandemic has posed unprecedented political and social challenges, ratcheted up the risk of a global recession, and pressed the pause button on interaction between peoples and countries. However, it has not impeded the progress of human civilizations, nor can it arrest the world's determined march toward realizing the common dream of peace and prosperity.

Amid this march, China endeavors to adapt to the new normal of COVID-19 response. In developing "cloud diplomacy" in the form of phone calls, correspondence, and video summits and conferences, it has enhanced international cooperation and understanding at a time when the pandemic dramatically affected diplomatic activities in a world filled with rising uncertainty and instability.

This cloud diplomacy has boosted international efforts for a joint response to the unprecedented global public health crisis, and injected confidence into global economic recovery.

Struggles between humanity and disease are part of the history of civilization. Facing a pandemic on a scale not seen over the past century, the world is at a crossroads. Shall we uphold multilateralism, or resort to unilateralism? Shall we remain open, build bridges and embrace cooperation, or hide behind closed doors, erect walls and descend to confrontation? Shall we enhance solidarity and pursue win-win results, or drive a wedge between countries and play a zero-sum game?

China's answer, through cloud diplomacy, underlines its belief in multilateralism and solidarity, its support of the UN-centered multilateral system and the international order underpinned by international law, and its firm stand for equity and justice. China opposes racial discrimination and ideological bias, and rejects all forms of unilateralism and power politics.

The world has witnessed already how anxiety and precarity can exacerbate xenophobia, populism and the anti-globalization sentiment. In a crisis like this, complaining, finger-pointing or scapegoating is not the way for countries to stay focused on their battle against the outbreak. The more the difficulties and challenges, the more the need for exchanges and cooperation. The more misgivings and doubts are encountered, the more is mutual learning required.

President Xi Jinping has said since the onset of the epidemic that be it taming the virus or achieving economic recovery, we cannot succeed without solidarity, cooperation and multilateralism.

Previous times of suffering and upheaval have opened windows to restructure international cooperation, the rebuilding of global institutions and multilateralism after World War II, for instance. If this dark COVID-19 cloud has a silver lining, it may be to force the world to re-think its global approach and the need to work together for multilateralism.

Promoting globalization

The outbreak has taken its toll on every aspect of global production and demand. It has impeded the flow of people, cross-border trade and other economic activities, triggered fluctuations in the financial market, and delivered a blow to both industrial and supply chains. Yet it has not been able to reverse the trend of economic globalization.

China has, through cloud diplomacy, indicated its resolve to stay on course in enhancing coordination on macroeconomic policies, and safeguarding an open world economy. It has called for global efforts to proceed with globalization, cut tariffs, remove barriers, facilitate the flow of trade, and keep international industrial and supply chains secure and smooth.

China advocates that countries need to implement strong and effective fiscal and monetary policies, better coordinate financial regulation to keep global financial markets stable, promote trade and investment liberalization, and facilitate more balanced and sustainable growth after COVID-19.

It will continue to supply the international market with anti-epidemic materials, pharmaceutical ingredients, daily necessities and other supplies. The 127th China Import and Export Fair was successfully held online in June and the Third China International Import Expo will be held as scheduled in Shanghai in November. In this way, China has continued to share its development benefits with the international community.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa (front left) attends a handover ceremony of medical supplies donated by China at the State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 21 (XINHUA)

Better global governance

History and reality have shown that when a global major public health crisis occurs, even the most advanced healthcare system could be overwhelmed.

The pandemic has revealed that the global institutions have not kept up with the challenges of the 21st-century global reality, and has exposed the weaknesses and deficiencies of the health systems and the emergency management system.

Research and understanding of new infectious diseases have to be strengthened. The preparedness and early warning mechanism for joint prevention and control of infectious diseases should be improved. The dire shortage of international public health resources needs to be addressed.

From the virtual diplomatic platform, China has urged the international community to draw lessons from the pandemic. It has called for establishing sound financing, monitoring, early warning and joint response mechanisms as well as a mechanism for reserving and allocating resources to build a global community of health for all.

It has emphasized conducting global governance in line with the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Also, it has worked to increase the voice and representation of developing countries in global governance.

China works for a stronger and better global governance system centered around the UN. It upholds the purposes and principles of the UN Charter to safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the UN and ensure that the UN plays its due role in safeguarding world peace and common development, and particularly, in addressing global challenges.

China safeguards the World Trade Organization-centered multilateral trading regime. It provides unfailing support for the World Health Organization (WHO) to play its role in the global cooperation against COVID-19, in enhancing global public health governance, and in garnering efforts to build a global community of health for all.

Despite the current geopolitical flux and talk of great power competition, the world is increasingly multipolar, and divergent recovery trajectories out of the pandemic are likely to reinforce this trend. No country alone can address the transnational challenges the world faces. No country can be safe until all countries are safe.

At a time when international cooperation is needed, pragmatic joint efforts could be pivotal to spurring global pandemic control and recovery, to shape the broader global context for common good.

China will, through cloud diplomacy, further seek steady progress in its relations with other major countries, expand convergence of interests with its neighbors, and reinforce solidarity and friendship with other developing countries.

Busy agenda

President Xi has championed international cooperation with a sense of responsibility.

Xi has held over 60 phone calls with over 50 foreign leaders and heads of international organizations. He held meetings with prime minister of Cambodia, president of Mongolia, president of Pakistan, director general of WHO and the European Union (EU)'s new leadership—European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Xi had phone calls with leaders of countries and international organizations, including leaders of Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Republic of Korea (ROK), South Africa, Ethiopia, Brazil and Chile and secretary general of the UN.

Xi sent messages of sympathy and exchanged letters with foreign leaders and heads of regional organizations, including the ROK, Italy, Iran, France, Germany, Spain, Serbia, Argentina and the EU, among others, to extend his sympathy to the people of epidemic-affected countries, express China's support for their efforts in curbing the virus and further strengthen bilateral ties.

Xi has also, via video link, attended a series of virtual multilateral events, including the Extraordinary Group of 20 (G20) Leaders' Summit, and the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly, hosted the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19, and sent congratulatory message to the Ninth China-Arab States Cooperation Forum Ministerial Conference.

Premier Li Keqiang has met via video link or talked on the phone with multiple foreign leaders, attended the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19, addressed the Global Vaccine Summit 2020 in a virtual conference, chaired the Video Symposium on New Fiscal Funds to Benefit Businesses and People, and co-chaired, via video link, the 22nd China-EU Summit with Michel and von der Leyen.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has had over 100 phone calls with foreign counterparts, held special foreign ministers' meetings with ASEAN members, Lancang-Mekong countries, Japan and the ROK, BRICS countries, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members, addressed the High-Level Video Conference on Belt and Road International Cooperation, the Video Conference of Chinese, Russian and Indian Foreign Ministers. Chinese diplomats and missions abroad are actively reaching out to the international community by receiving interviews, making speeches, writing articles and attending video conferences.

Unequivocal messages

The cloud diplomacy led by President Xi has shown unequivocal commitment to global solidarity and cooperation against COVID-19, honoring China's commitment to building a community with a shared future for humanity.

China, a victim of the virus, has shared its part to the global response to the COVID-19 challenge.

Addressing the Extraordinary G20 Leaders' Summit on COVID-19 in March, Xi called on the international community to be resolute in fighting a global war against COVID-19, make a collective response for control and treatment at the international level, leverage and coordinate international macro policies to counteract the negative impact of the contagion and prevent the world economy from falling into recession.

He highlighted areas of practical cooperation, such as vaccine and therapeutics development, opening up access to an online COVID-19 knowledge center and promoting comprehensive, systematic and effective control and treatment protocols. He also called for launching a G20 COVID-19 assistance initiative, jointly ensuring the stability of global industrial and supply chains, and convening a high-level meeting on global public health security.

On May 18, Xi addressed the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly, calling for a joint effort on the part of all countries to overcome the virus and build a global community of health for all. Six proposals were put forward: to do everything for COVID-19 control and treatment, support WHO in leading the global response, provide greater support for Africa, strengthen global governance in public health, restore economic and social development, and strengthen international cooperation.

At the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 on June 17, Xi announced an array of measures to support African countries in curbing the epidemic and promoting socioeconomic development. They included cancellation of the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020 within the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

Xi sent a written message to the High-Level Video Conference on Belt and Road International Cooperation, stressing that the people and their lives have always been put front and center in China's virus combat. China will do what it can and contribute its share to an early global victory against COVID-19 and to the recovery of the global economy, and work with its partners to develop the Belt and Road into a model of cooperation for meeting challenges through unity, a model of health for protecting people's safety and wellbeing, a model of recovery for restoring economic and social activity, and a model of growth for unlocking development potential. High-quality Belt and Road cooperation among participating countries will contribute to a community with a shared future for humanity.

In his meeting with President of the European Council Michel and President of the European Commission von der Leyen via video link on June 22, Xi said China is both an ancient civilization with rich heritage and a developing country full of dynamism. What China pursues is peace rather than hegemony. Every policy China adopts and every effort it makes are aimed at building a better life for the Chinese people. Xi pointed out three directions for the two sides to work along: China and the EU have to be two major forces for world peace and stability, two major markets for world development and prosperity, and two major civilizations for upholding multilateralism and improving global governance. Xi reaffirmed his readiness to maintain close communication with the two presidents to advance the major political agenda and take the China-EU relations to a new level.

In the congratulatory message sent to the Ninth China-Arab States Cooperation Forum Ministerial Conference via video link on July 6, Xi emphasized that China and Arab states need more than ever to step up cooperation to navigate this trying time and move forward together, calling on both sides to increase strategic communication and coordination to deliver more benefits to their peoples. The Chinese side proposed closer cooperation in five areas: strengthening unity and cooperation to defeat COVID-19, giving each other firm support and jointly defending fairness and justice, upholding multilateralism and improving global governance, advancing Belt and Road cooperation and joining hands in pursuing national rejuvenation, and promoting political dialogue for greater security in the Middle East.

While addressing the Global Vaccine Summit 2020 in a virtual conference on June 4, Premier Li announced that the Chinese Government will contribute to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI), contribute to vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries and support WHO's central role in coordinating vaccine research and development. It will promote multicenter clinical trials of vaccines to facilitate early deployment and application of the research outcomes.

The Communist Party of China has issued a joint appeal with 240 political parties in more than 110 countries, calling on all stakeholders to put people's lives and health first, uphold the vision of a global community with a shared future, and pull together to combat the virus.

Through cloud diplomacy, China has proposed the world for keeping to the right strategic direction with a broader international vision, for taking forward pragmatic cooperation with a greater sense of historical urgency, and for concrete measures to make greater contributions to the global fight against the deadly disease by strengthening connectivity to provide a solid underpinning for the economic recovery, by cooperating in innovation to inject fresh impetus into sustainable global growth, and by coordinating macroeconomic policies to forge greater synergy for the final victory against COVID-19.

Mutual support

China will never forget the help and support it received when it bore the brunt of the COVID-19 initial outbreak in early January. The leaders of more than 170 countries, heads of 50 international and regional organizations, and more than 300 foreign political parties and organizations expressed solidarity and support for China through phone calls, letters, and statements. Seventy-seven countries and 12 international organizations donated emergency medical supplies. Donations of materials were also made by local governments, enterprises, non-governmental organizations and people from 84 countries. The BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank provided emergency loans of 7 billion yuan ($1 billion) and 2.485 billion yuan ($355 million), while the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank offered loans for the building of China's public health emergency management system.

In the face of the growing pandemic spread in the world, China empathized and reciprocated.

China wasted no time in releasing information to WHO and other relevant countries and regional organizations, on the whole coronavirus genome sequence, the specific primers and probes for detecting the coronavirus.

China organized video conferences to share its control and treatment experience without reservation, explained China's tactics and achievements in fighting the virus, emphasized China's open, transparent and responsible approach toward releasing information and sharing its experience in virus control and the treatment of infected cases. The National Health Commission worked out diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control solutions, had them translated into three languages, and shared them with over 180 countries and more than 10 international and regional organizations.

The Information Office of the State Council held two special English-language press conferences in Wuhan, inviting experts and frontline health workers to talk about China's experience and practices. Chinese think tanks and experts have communicated with their counterparts around the world in a variety of ways.

China conducted more than 70 exchanges with international and regional organizations including ASEAN, the EU, the African Union, APEC, the Caribbean Community, the SCO, the ROK, Japan, Russia, the United States, Germany, and other countries.

China announced a series of major measures that it would take in supporting the global fight, including $2 billion of international aid over two years, the establishment of a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China in cooperation with the UN, the establishment of a cooperation mechanism for Chinese hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals, the COVID-19 vaccine to be used as a global public product once it is developed and deployed in China, and the implementation of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for the poorest countries together with other G20 members.

China spared no effort in providing humanitarian assistance to the international community. It has provided two batches of cash support totaling $50 million to WHO, assisted the organization in purchasing personal protective equipment and establishing reserve centers of supplies in China, and helped its COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund to raise funds in China. It has also participated in WHO's Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator initiative, aiming to speed up the development, production and equitable distribution of new tools.

China has sent teams of experts to the affected countries, mobilized manufacturers to produce, at full speed, protective gear badly needed by the world, and shipped medical supplies to every corner of the globe.

China sent 29 medical expert teams to 27 countries and offered assistance to 150 countries and four international organizations. It has instructed its medical teams stationed in 56 countries to support the local fight, provide counseling and health information to local people and overseas Chinese. Local governments, enterprises, non-governmental organizations and individuals in China have donated materials to more than 150 countries and regions and international organizations.

China has also carried out international exchanges and cooperation on scientific research in virus traceability, medicines, vaccines, and testing, shared scientific research data and information, and jointly studied prevention, control and treatment strategies.

The COVID-19 Academic Research Communication Platform has been put in place for worldwide researchers to release results and participate in discussion. A total of 104 journals and 970 papers and reports had been posted. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus Resource database has been released. The Novel Coronavirus National Science and Technology Resource Service System and the COVID-19 Pneumonia Scientific Literature Sharing Platform have been built.

China has also carried out cooperation in scientific research with other countries, and with WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation and the GAVI.

"Fear not the want of armor, for mine is also yours to wear." In the spirit of mutual assistance, the Chinese people and the whole world have written together an epic of international humanitarianism, contributing ingenuity and strength to the global fight against the coronavirus. This is the best example of a community with a shared future for humanity.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a senior expert on international studies

(Printed Edition Title: Cloud Diplomacy Dispels Dark Cloud of COVID-19 Challenges)

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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