Chinese President Xi Jinping gives the keynote speech at the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in Beijing on June 17 (XINHUA)
One of the positive spinoffs of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is the enhanced awareness of the need for solidarity it has created worldwide. This was very much in evidence on June 17, when Chinese and African leaders got together for the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19.
The summit, held via video link, was jointly proposed by China, South Africa, the rotating chair of the African Union (AU), and Senegal, the co-chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
The aim of the summit was to explore opportunities for African states to leverage multilateral cooperation through the FOCAC mechanism so that resources and knowledge can be mobilized to combat the pandemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the summit from Beijing, calling for more efforts to mobilize necessary resources, improve collaboration, and minimize the fallout of COVID-19 in his keynote speech.
Leaders of African countries, including members of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government and rotating chairs of major African sub-regional organizations, and the chairperson of the AU Commission, attended the summit.
UN Secretary General António Guterres and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), also attended the meeting as special guests.
A joint statement released after the summit called the pandemic "the most serious global public health emergency since the end of World War II."
He Wenping, a senior researcher with the China-Africa Institute, said full solidarity has yet to be achieved in the international community as the U.S. Government continues to level accusations against China as well as WHO.
"The summit was held at the right time when reinforcement of solidarity is much needed," He said.
Renewal of friendship
Xi commented on the mutual support between China and Africa in combating COVID-19. "China shall always remember the invaluable support Africa gave us at the height of our battle with the coronavirus," he said.
Similarly, when the virus made its way to African shores, China was the first country to assist and has been committed to combating the pandemic alongside the African people.
China has sent much-needed supplies and medical experts to more than 50 African countries and the AU, also sharing the experience gained in fighting the pandemic via video conferences.
A communiqué issued on June 13 by the AU said China has ensured the supply of 30 million testing kits, 10,000 ventilators and 80 million masks each month for Africa—a "significant contribution."
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairperson of the AU, thanked China on behalf of Africa for its donation of personal protective equipment and other medical assistance, and applauded China-Africa solidarity during the pandemic.
"Sino-Africa solidarity and better multilateral cooperation is key to winning the battle against this pandemic. Through this [summit] 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," he said.
Noting that the pandemic has not yet run its course, Xi called on both China and Africa to stay committed to fighting COVID-19 together, saying that China will continue to do whatever it can to support Africa's response.
"China will lose no time in following through on the measures I announced at the opening of the World Health Assembly, and continue to help African countries by providing supplies, sending expert teams, and facilitating Africa's procurement of medical supplies in China," Xi said.
He also said China will cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans due to mature by the end of 2020.
The summit highlighted consensual support for multilateralism from the leaders.
Stressing that solidarity and cooperation is "the most powerful weapon" in the face of COVID-19, Xi called on China and Africa to remain committed to upholding multilateralism.
"We oppose politicization and stigmatization of COVID-19, and we oppose racial discrimination and ideological bias. We stand firm for equity and justice in the world," he said.
Guterres echoed the sentiments of others and said the core of multilateralism is unity and solidarity.
"We must insist that no country is safe and healthy until all countries are safe and healthy," he said, adding that unity and solidarity is essential to ensure that treatment, testing and vaccines are universally available and that first responders and essential workers have adequate protection.
"We reaffirm the commitment to supporting multilateralism, opposing unilateralism, safeguarding the UN-centered international system, and defending international equity and justice," said the joint statement, commending WHO's role in leading and coordinating the global response to COVID-19 and calling on the international community to scale up political and financial support for the organization.
Consensus was also reached regarding China's efforts in fighting the pandemic. "Africa commends the decisive measures taken by the Chinese Government to contain the spread of the virus and its timely sharing of information with WHO and relevant countries in an open, transparent and responsible manner," said the statement.
According to Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi, Executive Director of the Center for Nigerian Studies, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, the summit served as a way of reminding the Chinese and African people to form relationships where both hearts and minds are in accord.
"China-Africa cooperation will not be shaken in the midst of Western attempts to sow the seed of discord between Chinese and African people," Omoruyi told Beijing Review.
The Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in session on June 17 (XINHUA)
Xi proposed a moment of silence for those who passed away due to COVID-19 and expressed condolences to their families.
By June 17, the death toll in Africa had reached 7,019 with the number still growing, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In China, though most of the 4,600-plus deaths occurred from January to April, vigilance is high after more than 100 new cases were detected in Beijing in less than a week from June 11.
Xi said people and their lives must always come first, adding that China will start construction of the Africa CDC headquarters ahead of schedule this year, working with Africa to continue to deliver the healthcare initiative adopted at the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit. In addition, he called for speeding up construction of China-Africa Friendship Hospitals and cooperation between paired-up Chinese and African hospitals.
China's promise to make its vaccine a public good was also a priority.
"We pledge that once the development and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine is completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit," Xi said.
This sentiment was one of the highlights of the summit, according to Omoruyi.
"It is an example that China-Africa cooperation has taken the lead [in establishing a community with a shared future for humanity]," he said.
(Print Edition Title: Multilateral Synergy)
Copyedited by Francisco Little
Comments to email@example.com