US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent Africa tour exposed his country’s urgent desire to start a tussle for influence in the continent with China. But for China, this vast land is never an arena of great power games. Even when the Chinese nation is going all out to fight the coronavirus, the country has never forgotten Africa.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated on Tuesday, February 25, “Many developing countries including African countries gave us valuable support and help at the earliest time possible despite their limited resources. We will remember the friendship and assistance we received… and support those countries with weaker health systems as much as we can to help them defeat the virus.” This is seen as a response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call on the international community to support those countries with weaker health systems.
In times of crisis, the friendship between China and Africa only grows deeper. And such relations can hardly develop without China’s wholehearted support for Africa in public health which has lasted decades.
China’s aid to Africa is about not only giving them a fish but also teaching them how to fish. Since the 1960s, about 25,000 Chinese medical staff have been dispatched to Africa and they treated nearly 270 million African patients. Since 2006, China has built over 30 hospitals in the continent, with corresponding facilities and instruments. And through clinical teaching and lectures, China has trained tens of thousands of local medical staff for African countries.
China has never flinched from public health emergencies in Africa. Amid the Ebola outbreak in 2014, China sent 27 groups of medical workers to the continent and provided emergency assistance worth 750 million yuan ($106 million).
However, although public health conditions in Africa have improved significantly with China’s support, regional countries are still vulnerable. The region bears 25 percent of the global disease burden but has merely 3 percent of the world’s health personnel and less than 1 percent of health expenditure.
Therefore, the potential challenges COVID-19 poses to Africa are enormous, and the urgency and significance of building a complete health and epidemic prevention system in Africa is self-evident. China should continue to play its role as the largest developing country, help Africa to combat this epidemic, and commit to enhancing the region’s healthcare in the long run.
One the one hand, China can prioritize cooperation with Africa regarding public health under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework.
The ongoing coronavirus epidemic has reminded the world of the risks that public health issues could pose to the world. Thus, advances in Africa’s public health will benefit not only the local people, but the entire world.
As a remarkable link between China and Africa, the BRI is able to mobilize rich resources.
In the future, the two sides can utilize this initiative to help African countries build comprehensive public health systems.
On the other hand, China should continue to strengthen cooperation with the WHO and other UN agencies, so as to provide more systematic assistance to Africa along with other members of the international community through the multilateral framework.
As Zhao put it, “African countries standing with China in times of adversity is a perfect demonstration of a community with a shared future for mankind.” When African countries face difficulties, China has an obligation to support them. This is not to vie for influence or to grab anything from the continent, but to show the sincerity of China as a responsible world power and a true friend of Africa.