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Home News Asia Pacific China’s Multifaceted COVID-19 Diplomacy Across Africa  – The Diplomat

China’s Multifaceted COVID-19 Diplomacy Across Africa  – The Diplomat

Within the first a number of months after the primary case of the brand new coronavirus was confirmed within the metropolis of Wuhan, some speculated that relations between China and Africa could be strained. Fears started that flows of individuals between cities throughout China and international locations throughout Africa may result in the contagious virus causing large-scale illness and even death. This led many international locations to ban direct flights to China. When Ethiopia allowed such flights to proceed, many speculated that the several direct flights a day between Addis Ababa and cities across China could lead to epidemics across the continent. As many African international locations started to document their index instances of COVID-19, it was clear that these fears weren’t correct, because the overwhelming majority of nations have traced their first instances to both North America or Europe.

Within the months since, the pandemic has confirmed to be a possibility for Beijing to cement its relations with African states. That is particularly the case as america and Europe suffered from surges in confirmed instances and deaths. In the meantime, China started a diplomatic and financial offensive throughout the continent, seeking to prove itself as a reliable partner during times of crisis and erase criticism of its initial handling of the virus. This may be seen in analyzing the response of the Chinese language authorities, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and Chinese language personal companies throughout the continent.

Medical Help 

China despatched its first presents of bilateral help to African states within the context of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in late March. Some help was given by the Chinese language authorities whereas different donations got by each Chinese language corporations and the Chinese language diaspora, however facilitated by Chinese language embassies in African capitals.

One of many first cases occurred on March 24, when the previous Chinese language Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian facilitated the donation of face masks, testing kits, and different medical tools from the Chinese language telecommunications large Huawei. In a video that the embassy posted on Twitter, Lin thanked South Africa for the solidarity and support that it showed China in the course of the early phases of the epidemic and stated the help was indicative of the “brotherhood” between the 2 international locations. The occasion was also attended by South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize who thanked China for its assist and for sharing its expertise in combating the virus.

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The Embassy of China in Zimbabwe announced similar assistance at the end of March, when the embassy labored with the Chinese language diaspora to boost the funds essential to improve Wilkins Hospital, which was designated to be one of the main centers to treat COVID-19 cases in the country.  Related bulletins had been made by Chinese language embassies throughout the continent and past. Nevertheless, there have been no public particulars on how such donations had been doled out, retaining with the shortage of transparency that usually shrouds help given to African states by China. That is significantly pertinent within the case of Zimbabwe, where massive corruption was later revealed in the facilitation of COVID-19 related assistance to the country, ensuing within the elimination of the nation’s well being minister. Whereas it’s not confirmed that any of the help given by China to Zimbabwe on the early phases of the pandemic was siphoned off via corruption, the shortage of transparency solely fuels hypothesis.

Early within the pandemic, the Chinese language authorities additionally started sending to African states groups of medical personnel from China who had expertise treating instances of COVID-19. One of many first groups of medical personnel was sent to Algeria, which was the primary African nation to expertise a surge in COVID-19 instances and deaths after the virus arrived in the North African country from France and Italy. One other early nation to obtain groups of Chinese language medical doctors was Nigeria, the place the announcement created resentment among the many Nigerian medical neighborhood who stated Chinese language medical doctors weren’t wanted to answer the pandemic. The Nigerian authorities insisted that the doctors were needed attributable to their expertise treating instances of the virus. Regardless of the resistance from the Nigerian Medical Affiliation, a team of 15 Chinese doctors arrived in Abuja in early April.

China has continued to ship medical groups to African international locations regularly since March. For example, a staff of 10 Chinese doctors arrived in Zimbabwe on the finish of September. As of June, not less than 148 Chinese language medical staff had been despatched to 11 African states to answer the pandemic according to the Chinese Foregin Ministry. That being stated, the small print of such medical deployments, the work that they’re conducting, and the length of their stays in any explicit nation usually are not clear.


One other means via which China has promised medical help to African international locations is thru the manufacturing and eventual distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. That is particularly essential as many African states are nervous that vaccine nationalism will stop them from getting an ample provide of vaccines as soon as one is produced. China currently has four vaccines in section three trials and has been assertive that after one is authorized African states will obtain doses of it, saying {that a} vaccine could be thought-about a “world public good.”

China has labored bilaterally to make sure African states that they are going to be given a vaccine if one of many 4 candidates that China presently has in trial is authorized. Recently, 50 African diplomats in China visited a vaccine factory operated by Sinopham, a serious Chinese language pharmaceutical firm. Throughout the tour, Sinopham Chairman Liu Jingzhen said “President Xi Jinping identified that after the COVID-19 vaccine is developed and put into use, it is going to take the lead in benefiting African international locations.” Sinopham has been conducting portions of its phase three trial in Morocco and the North African kingdom has additionally agreed to help China produce a vaccine once one is approved.

China lately joined the Covax Alliance, which seeks to equitably distribute 2 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the top of 2021. Particularly, the Covax alliance seeks to vaccinate 20 p.c of the high-risk inhabitants in every nation as soon as a vaccine is authorized. China had initially missed the deadline to join the alliance of over 170 countries, lots of that are positioned in Africa.

Debt Reduction 

A significant matter of competition for the reason that outbreak of the worldwide pandemic has been debt aid for African states, a few of that are entering into a recession for the first time in decades. As the most important single-state creditor in Africa, a considerable quantity of consideration has been given to the actions that China is keen to take relating to debt aid.

The primary remark from the Chinese language authorities relating to debt in Africa was made in mid-April as a part of a G-20 effort to alleviate fiscal strains on decrease revenue international locations. On the assembly, all G-20 members including China, agreed to suspend both principal payments and interest payments on debts until the end of 2020. Forty international locations in sub-Saharan Africa are eligible to obtain such debt aid, though it’s not clear what number of Chinese language loans qualify for it. The second point out got here when Xi addressed the 73rd World Health Assembly in May, during which he largely constructed upon the earlier pledges of China to help within the world restoration from the pandemic. Particularly, he pledged $2 billion in financial help to creating international locations.

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Later that month, Chinese language International Minister Wang Yi said that China will work through both multilateral and bilateral channels to address the issue of debt relief. Nevertheless, China continues to desire bilateral channels, in line with the shortage of transparency that accompanies lots of its mortgage agreements over the past a number of a long time.

Throughout the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Towards COVID-19, Xi promised to cancel all interest-free loans that China has given to African states. Nevertheless, this measure is essentially symbolic as such loans solely make up round 5 p.c of debt owed to China by African states.

Function of State-Owned Enterprises

It’s simple to imagine that given the CCP’s centralized and authoritarian nature, industrial help could be performed in a direct and straight-forward method with a single actor espousing a single narrative. Trying deeper into the dynamics of China’s COVID-19 diplomacy, it’s clear that it incorporates quite a lot of actors with differing motives. Amongst these actors are the Chinese language state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Chinese language SOEs are often considered an extension of the central authorities, though they do keep unbiased company, particularly within the day-to-day working of their operations. That is particularly the case overseas, the place the space and totally different laws of the native nation give SOEs extra operational independence. Thus, it’s not shocking to watch that their response to the COVID-19 disaster in Africa, albeit promoted by the Chinese language authorities, has demonstrated its own independent mode and motivation.

This motivation might be categorised as “contract-seeking,” during which donations are focused towards particular businesses or provinces the place current enterprise relationships are positioned or have the potential to be created. For example, transport-focused SOE Jiangxi Worldwide Financial and Technical Cooperation Co. provided 10,000 masks to Ghana’s Ministry of Roads and Highways firstly of the pandemic, in an evident push to foster a better financial partnership with the Ghanaian company. Equally, the Chinese language Building and Civil Engineering Firm (CCCEC) donated cash, face masks, sanitizers, and rice to the Lagos state authorities in Nigeria. The phrases of CCCEC’s consultant Kelvin Liu are fairly emblematic of his motivations: “I hope the connection between the corporate and the state authorities is additional cemented by this epic battle towards coronavirus.”

SOEs have additionally been providing donations to African SOEs and personal corporations. COSCO Transport donated 10,000 medical masks and 200 bottles of hand wash gel to Transnet, South Africa’s nationwide freight and logistics group to “assist native port enterprises to battle towards COVID-19.”

Function of the Personal Sector

One other set of actors who’ve been utilizing the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue their very own motivations and pursuits are Chinese language personal corporations. Personal corporations are capable of keep operational independence, enabling them to sponsor assist initiatives whereas selling their very own industrial pursuits.

An essential differentiation have to be made between the motivations of SOEs and personal corporations. SOEs have a tendency to focus on establishments which they intend to do enterprise with instantly, whereas personal corporations goal their donations towards each central governments and shoppers, with the purpose of boosting the native economies on which their income rely. The deputy director for the China Africa Enterprise Council (CABC) explained this recently when requested what motivates personal corporations to donate: “And naturally, the earlier Africa wins the battle towards COVID-19, the earlier their (the businesses’) enterprise might be introduced again on monitor. The longer African international locations undergo, they may undergo too. So, the extra they can assist, the higher.”

As early as March, the Chinese language footwear producer Huajian Worldwide had sent over 100,000 general protective masks to the Ethiopian authorities, receiving official appreciation from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.  Lower than two months later, ICT large Huawei doubled down by donating 10,000 surgical masks, 20 infrared thermometers, and 100 bottles of sanitizers to the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Larger Schooling. These instances are extremely consultant, as each companies have a deeply established presence within the nation.

One other fascinating occasion of a “market-seeking” donation from a Chinese language personal firm comes from Nigeria. PalmPay, an Africa-focused cell cost startup backed with funding from Transsion (a serious Shenzhen-based cellphone maker), is planning to waive transfer fees and even give direct “money” handouts to clients hit by COVID-19.


In analyzing China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout Africa, it’s clear {that a} numerous array of actors are taking part with a mess of motives. These embody geopolitical goals, an try and divert consideration away from the origin of the virus inside China, and searching for to put the groundwork for industrial offers. Whatever the differing intentions, all such help performs into the narrative being prompted by the Chinese language Communist Social gathering, which is that Beijing is helping its companions throughout a worldwide disaster that it efficiently responded to whereas international locations within the West face rising dying instruments and case numbers. Whereas america and Europe have provided substantial assistance to African states during the pandemic, their efforts  haven’t obtained practically the quantity of media protection that the Chinese language help has nor have they been capable of coordinate it in the best way that Beijing has due to its monopoly over the nation’s markets.

Even though originally of the pandemic some predicted that it would lead to a downturn in relations between China and Africa, it has now turn out to be clear that the CCP has tried to make use of the pandemic as a possibility to strengthen such ties. Whereas public opinion polling shows this might not be successful, it’s unquestionable that the CCP is making an attempt.

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R. Maxwell Bone is an MPhil Candidate in African Research on the College of Cambridge, Jesus School. Observe him on Twitter @maxbone55

Ferdinando Cinotto is an MPhil Candidate in Improvement Research on the College of Cambridge, Jesus School. His analysis focuses on Chinese language funding insurance policies in Africa.

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