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The Ninth Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum held

NOV . 23 2020
Peking University, November 23, 2020: To mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the Ninth Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum was held in Beijing between November 5 and 6. The meeting was hosted by the Secretariat of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of the FOCAC and organized by the China-Africa Institute. The event also garnered support from Peking University Center for African Studies, the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, and the China Institute of International Studies. The meeting was designed to pool the wisdom of Chinese and African think tanks, push forward the implementation of the follow-up actions proposed at the Beijing Summit of FOCAC and offer ideas and suggestions to further strengthen the shared future of the Sino-African community.

The session featured a series of dynamic presentations with the theme of “Sino-African Solidarity in the Fight Against COVID-19 and Public Health Security”. Fifteen different speakers including academics, government officials, researchers, and development and health experts joined both in person and online, hailing from China, South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana, Morocco and Switzerland. Moreover, over 3000 participants from around the world tuned into a live stream of the event hosted on the broadcasting platform WeiZan.

The session featured two panels, which facilitated discussion around the two sub-themes: “Sino-African Solidarity in the Fight Against COVID-19” and “China-Africa Cooperation in Public Health Security – Opportunities and Challenges”. The panels were moderated by Xu Liang, secretary-general of Peking University Center for African Studies, and Hannah Wandje Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined.

In his opening remarks to kickstart the panel’s discussion, Zhang Haibin, vice dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, expressed his view that the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum is an ideal platform to deepen China-Africa cooperation in the areas of information exchange, experience sharing, and communication. In combination these areas have the ability to propel the paths of the unique China-Africa partnership towards a bigger and brighter future of mutual benefit. He also emphasized the need —in our increasingly globalized world— for countries to seek multilateralism and cooperation especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussions were kicked off with talks of Africa’s capacity to combat the pandemic. Edward A. Boateng, ambassador of Ghana to China, broke Africa’s efforts during the pandemic into five areas: political, economic, media, health, and people-to-people exchanges. The Ghanaian Ambassador called for both parties to share personal accounts of their successes in controlling the virus. Liu Haifang, director of Peking University Center for African Studies, echoed Africa’s resilience and capacity during the pandemic by noting the two-level mechanisms utilized in the African Union and at the national level. She also noted several autonomous innovations and relief efforts implemented by the African people and civil society groups. She added that the pandemic has given opportunity to put into practice new public health expertise, with the focus now on how to carry these improvements into the future. Similarly, Elisio Macamo from the University of Basel in Switzerland commented on the fact that this resilience is vital to prevent a worst-case scenario health crisis from occurring in Africa. In this vein, he argued that when challenged with the dilemma to either save lives or preserve the economy, Africa must be prepared to implement policies which prioritise human well-being.

Furthermore, the speakers deliberated on China’s support and how to best leverage the existing solidarity mechanisms. Feng Yong, counsellor of the Permanent Mission of China to the UN Office at Geneva, applauded Africa’s efforts to control the spread of the virus while commending the strong support from China, WHO, the Global Fund, and the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. He stressed that the pandemic provides ample opportunities to promote stronger trilateral health cooperation between China, Africa and international organizations and noted the role new programs could play in reducing debt burdens and mobilizing resources for health development. Professor Zha Daojiong from the School of International Studies at Peking University also argued that the China-Africa relationship could learn a few lessons from the ASEAN +1 framework, for example using this pandemic as a means through which to improve health cooperation and incorporating experience gained from fighting the 2003 SARS epidemic. In his address he made call for the need for increased local support, improved experience sharing, the use of aid to develop the health sector, and a move from aid-based to collaborative approaches in Sino-African relations. Sanusha Naidu, senior research associate of the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa, emphasized the importance of international cooperation when it comes to health, saying that in many ways the pandemic is a litmus test for solidarity between nations. According to her, African leaders must consider how their actions and interests factor into the future of this solidarity framework while gearing diplomacy towards vaccine development and distribution. Also, according to Professor Sithembile Mbete from University of Pretoria in South Africa, the development of the COVID-19 vaccine presents China an opportunity to play a significant role in promoting equitable production and distribution. She argued that the China-Egypt cooperation could serve to encourage equity in the vaccine development process. In addition, Professor Mustapha Machrafi from Mohammed V University in Morocco shared Morocco’s collaboration in vaccine development, arguing that whether through the Belt and Road Initiative or FOCAC, Sino-African relations have put an emphasis on universal healthcare rooted in solidarity and reciprocity.

Palesa Sekhejane from the South African Institute of Africa made further observation that in order to cement the progress Africa has made during the pandemic, the overall state of medical infrastructure in Africa must be improved. Panellists went on to express their hopes for the future and offered up related policy recommendations. According to Professor Zhou Qian from the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, China’s support towards Africa stemmed from the need to reciprocate Africa’s efforts, namely its willingness to implement measures to control the pandemic and share its expertise. She made a case for the consolidation of this cooperation through a move towards digital health solutions, medical education and new medical, technological and, service research. Likewise, Dr. Chen Li from the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, made the point that Africa could employ the field-knowledge of health professionals in order to solve Africa’s issues around supply and demand. She noted the promotion of investigation and research as the base for evaluating the quality of health service and vaccines, increased investment into medical and health software, and medical and health training as ways to accelerate the building of a Sino-African health community.

Professor Lucy Chen from the National School of Development at Peking University advocated for a three-prong approach for future health cooperation between China and Africa. First, improving Africa’s public healthcare systems and capacity for service delivery. Second, investing and planning cooperative projects to understand and plan goals of Africa’s Primary Health Care (PHC) systems. Third, creating partnership between academic, public and private institutions as a means to boost the flow of information. Professor Liu Minquan from the School of Economics at Peking University emphasized the role of grassroots and nationwide mobilization implemented by the Chinese government in Wuhan and several other provinces and proposed the establishment of a regional health response and close jurisdictional systems of support across Africa.

During the event panelists focused on the mutual collaborations and exchanges between China and Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic while underlining efforts to leverage multilateral agreements and diplomacy as a way to foster solidarity towards building a comprehensive China-Africa health partnership. The Ninth Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum was held at a crucial juncture, bringing light to efforts of improving China-Africa relations through the exchange of ideas on health cooperation and the pursuit of a sustainable all-inclusive system of healthcare.

Written by: Dickson David Agbaji
Edited by: Jacob Tomkins, Huang Weijian