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Pragmatism Not Politics the Focus of High-Profile China-Africa Online Conference

A number of prominent African ambassadors to China joined scholars, business leaders, and think tank analysts this week for a wide-ranging online discussion on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting ties between the two regions.

The event, organized by the Beijing-based consultancy Development Reimagined, the Center for China and Globalization think tank and the Ghanaian embassy, opened with a keynote address by China’s former ambassador to South Africa and now the President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), a non-governmental group run by the communist party. Lin didn’t waste any time and went right into a 15-minute critique of the United States for its poor handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and what he said was Washington’s disregard of the situation in Africa (click here for transcript highlights of Lin’s remarks).

But Lin’s acerbic comments were the exception. During the remainder of the event, the focus turned to pragmatic topics like how the two regions can work more closely together to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, both in practical health terms and economically. 

Although this seminar didn’t address any of the sensitive issues that currently confront the China-Africa relationship, from the lack of progress on debt relief to the trade imbalance, it did cover a lot of ground in areas that often receive considerably less attention in similar discussions with U.S. and European stakeholders, where political topics tend to prevail.

The last portion of the conference featured comments by a number of African ambassadors in Beijing, a group that observers in other countries rarely hear from. What’s notable here is the difference in tone when discussing China-Africa relations compared to what we see in many parts of Africa and certainly in the U.S. and Europe. The enthusiasm and conviviality expressed by the ambassadors towards China may come as a bit of a surprise to those more accustomed to the skepticism about Beijing that is increasingly pervasive on African social media and in the independent press.

Key Highlights of African Ambassador Comments:

  • [1:55:31] TESHOME CHANAKA, ETHIOPIAN AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: “The problem is that many outside Africa and outside China set narratives for our partnership and we have been bogged down by this narrative. I think it’s time now that we set the narrative ourselves for our partnership.”
  • [2:12:04] MBELWA KARIKI, TANZANIAN AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: “The impact of COVID-19 pandemic will certainly redefine the new world order and surely there is a need for China and African countries to safeguard their common interests in the face of adversity from COVID-19. And now more than ever there’s a need to boost Sino-African trade and economic cooperation in order to overcome the economic challenges of COVID-19.”
  • [2:25:12] SARAH SEREM, KENYAN AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: “China as a nation has demonstrated to us that it’s possible to collaborate, it’s possible to support. We saw its generosity when the virus started… and I cannot overemphasize the importance of this trend of collaboration with this country.”

Watch the full event on the Center for China and Globalization YouTube channel:

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