China and Africa Should Strengthen Control Collaboration in Pandemic

Although the continent accounts for only a small proportion of confirmed cases in the world so far, the pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the African economy

The number of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients in Africa exceeded 158,000 as of June 3. Although the continent accounts for only a small proportion of confirmed cases in the world so far, the pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the African economy. The negative impact is likely to continue, and even exacerbate.

Therefore, measures need to be taken to mitigate losses and revitalize the economy, and stronger China-Africa cooperation could be one of them.

The China-built Djibouti International Free Trade Zone in Djibouti on December 9, 2018. It opened in July of the year (Photo/Xinhua)

Hardest time

The pandemic has caused a great deal of damage to exports. The economic growth of African countries is primarily driven by export of primary products, such as crude oil, mineral ores and agricultural products, making them heavily reliant on foreign trade.

However, due to the pandemic, global demand for these commodities has reduced sharply, making it the hardest time for the African economy.

What’s more, foreign investment in Africa has declined sharply. Owing to the disruptions caused to the global industrial chains, enterprises’ productions have stopped or partially stopped, bringing new investment to a halt. For a period of time, foreign investment will plunge worldwide, including in Africa.

Thus, economic growth in the continent will see a sharp downturn. After the global financial crisis in 2008, the African economy grew at a fast pace. Last year, it registered a 3.4-percent growth while the global average was only 2.3 percent.

This year, it was expected to grow by 4 percent. However, now the economy is predicted to shrink by 2 to 3 percent, which could lead to great economic difficulties.

Given these factors, African countries may have a wider balance of international payment deficits and increased debts. Other problems could also arise, such as a depreciation of the exchange rate, higher inflation and rise in the unemployment rate. As a consequence, poverty may escalate and the impoverished population may continue to grow.

This grim situation calls for African countries to resume economic activities in a timely and safe manner, while pooling resources to combat the pandemic.

China-Africa initiatives

In China, positive results have been achieved to contain COVID-19. Based on that, China has basically stabilized industrial and supply chains.

China and African countries should deepen their collaboration under existing mechanisms to minimize the pandemic’s shocks to the African economy.

In line with the agreements on China-Africa cooperation reached at the Beijing Summit and the seventh ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2018, China and African countries will implement eight major initiatives. These are for industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security. At a time when new driving forces are needed for Africa’s economic growth, the two sides can consider stepping up efforts to carry out these initiatives.

The Report on the Work of the Government delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the Third Session of the 13th National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, on May 22 put forward the major targets and priorities of China’s development for this year. They include ensuring security in six areas, namely, employment, people’s livelihoods, development of market entities, food and energy supplies, stable operation of industrial and supply chains, and public services at the community level.

Some of these are also essential to African countries’ stability and development. They and China can carry out cooperation in the following aspects under the framework of the eight major initiatives:

Deepening agricultural cooperation to ensure food security in Africa. The pandemic will exacerbate food shortages. Against this backdrop, agricultural cooperation between China and Africa appears to be more important than ever before.

Promoting high-quality development in the economic and trade cooperation zones China has built in Africa. China and African countries need to help the companies in these cooperation zones to resume production as soon as possible and increase production capacity in time so that they can satisfy market demands as well as help with local people’s livelihoods.

Maintaining stability of industrial and supply chains between China and Africa. China can increase its import of commodities from Africa, particularly processed products. They should make efforts to boost trade facilitation, including simplifying authentication, inspection, quarantine and customs clearance procedures to lower the cost of trade.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, China and African countries have already jointly carried out an array of infrastructure programs. Now they need to continue cooperation in these programs.

Chinese medical workers board a plane in Harare, Zimbabwe, bound for Equatorial Guinea to offer assistance in novel coronavirus disease treatment after finishing their work in Zimbabwe, on May 25 (Photo/Xinhua)

Anti-pandemic work

For now, the China-Africa cooperation in healthcare under the eight major initiatives can shift the focus as much as possible to prevent a wider spread of COVID-19.

China has done a lot to support Africa to battle the virus. Chinese enterprises have assisted in building a number of specialized hospitals in Africa. For example, the Wilkins Hospital in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, was upgraded in 17 days, funded by Chinese private enterprises. It became a key medical observation site for suspected COVID-19 patients.

In addition, China has helped African countries improve their capacity to combat COVID-19. For instance, a Chinese medical expert team assisted the Ethiopian Ministry of Health to commission the equipment for a COVID-19 detection lab, enabling the country to acquire the capability of nucleic acid testing.

China has also shared its prevention, diagnosis and treatment plans through various means, including video conferences, telephone discussions and online release of information. By May 18, China had sent seven medical expert teams to African countries to help fight the epidemic.

Next, based on the actual needs of African countries, Chinese enterprises could participate in developing African countries’ emergency response capacity and provide timely medical supplies.


The author is executive dean of the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University