Testing the relationship: China’s ‘Corona diplomacy’ in Africa

Testing the relationship: China’s ‘Corona diplomacy’ in Africa

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As the coronavirus pandemic puts an accent on the geopolitical dynamics among powerful states, China has stepped up its support to Africa’s fight against the virus – arguably not only out of magnanimity. Although China’s assistance is very welcome on the continent at the moment, more is on its way to test China-Africa relations, such as negotiations on debt relief.

The global response to the novel coronavirus brought to the surface geopolitical tensions and geopolitical competition between China, the EU and the US predating the epidemic. There are signs of this in President Trump referring to COVID-19 as the ‘China virus’, Iran’s complicated access to international support as well as global markets for medical supplies due to US sanctions. The tension could also be seen in the irony of Chinese solidarity missions to Italy at the height of the crisis there, while some European countries had by then temporarily banned exporting personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential medical supplies, and in the US’ withdrawal of funds to the World Health Organization (WHO), following its accusations that the WHO Director-General has been subservient to China at the onset of the outbreak.

China’s role in the global response to COVID-19 and the support it extends at the bilateral and multilateral levels are tied to its domestic and international interests. Its international ‘mask diplomacy‘ is scrutinised and there is a debate on whether or not it will succeed in enhancing its international standing to become a superpower. The debate withstanding, one of the regions where China has made various visible and much-needed contributions to the fight against the epidemic is Africa. The spread of the virus on the continent is still relatively low and many African countries have taken strict measures to prevent an outbreak. To support these ongoing efforts, the Chinese government has for example provided PPE to 18 countries mostly in West Africa, sent a medical team to Ethiopia and Algeria, and provided (virtual) technical and medical advice to Mozambique on diagnosing and treating COVID-19. China’s private sector has also been at the forefront of the continental fight against corona, the most visible support being from the Jack Ma Foundation, which provided three rounds of medical equipment and supplies to all African countries at the coordination of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The last round included 4.6 million masks, 500,000 swabs and test kits, and 300 ventilators among other things.

Read the full blog here.

This blog first appeared on the ECDPM site. 

Author: Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw, Policy Officer in the Security and Resilience Programme, ECDPM. 

Image courtesy of GovernmentZA via Flickr.

The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.

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