The end of 2020 seems to have marked the closure of a cycle of political turbulence that started in 2016 with the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States. The European Union, which could have emerged from this period in a much weakened condition, has instead been strengthened, having established a clear long-term project for European societies and for Europe’s place in the world: the Green Deal.
COVID-19 has exacerbated factors influencing international support for peacebuilding, including a more volatile geopolitical order and changes in domestic priorities in donor countries. Peacebuilding and a conflict-sensitive approach have not yet been at the forefront of the international responses to COVID-19, undermining attempts to ‘build back better’ in a world where negative conflict dynamics are increasingly apparent.
The ETTG note debunks some of the dominant myths surrounding Chinese engagement in Africa and unpacks the evolving relationship between China and the African continent. It starts by looking closer at common European perceptions about China-Africa relations. It then provides a brief sketch of the historical underpinnings of China’s engagement in Africa. Afterwards, it looks at how the notion of competition with rising global powers like China has influenced the EU’s relations with African partners.
While the EU weeps over the slow progress in the preparation of the EU-Africa Summit in October – partly slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic – China and African leaders held an ‘Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19’ last week. Thirteen African leaders took part in this virtual event, including South Africa’s President and African Union Chairperson, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union Commission.
The EU project is often described as an eternal work in progress, a “beautiful yet still incomplete masterpiece”, primarily because of its inability, with a few exceptions, to reach shared decisions, thus effectively exercising its full power potential. It has been said that the European Union could “potentially” become a fully-fledged member of the looming multi-polar system of global governance, provided that it not only develops its economic power, which is insufficient on its own, but also diplomatic, informational and military capabilities.
The full extent of COVID-19’s impact on global geopolitical balances cannot yet be assessed. Nevertheless, a number of trends are clearly emerging and these have already upset a number of balances which previously seemed unchangeable. COVID-19 is evidently not the cause of such changes, which had been well underway before the outbreak, but the pandemic has become a litmus test that has further thrust these developments under the political spotlight.
Both the US and China seem to see the COVID-19 crisis through the lenses of geopolitical competition. A desire to repair its international reputation and gain influence underlies China’s offer of medical equipment and sanitary know-how to countries hit by the contagion – the so-called “mask diplomacy”