China makes billion-dose pledge to Africa to help overcome COVID-19

Jevans Nyabiage, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 30 2021 01:50 PM | Updated as of Nov 30 2021 02:06 PM

China has promised to donate a billion coronavirus vaccines, advance billions of dollars for African trade and infrastructure, and write off interest-free loans to African countries to help the continent heal from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking via a video link from Beijing during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping said China would supply a billion doses to help Africa vaccinate 60 per cent of its population by next year.

Of those, 600 million would be via donations and the rest would be produced jointly by African countries and Chinese companies.

In addition, China would send medical teams to help the continent deal with the pandemic, Xi said, to the forum, which is being hosted by Senegal.

"China will undertake 10 medical and health projects for African countries and send 1,500 medical personnel to Africa," Xi said.

Most countries in Africa have not vaccinated their citizens. The World Health Organization says while many high-income countries reported more than 60 per cent vaccine coverage, just over 7 per cent of Africa's population is fully vaccinated - despite a recent rise in shipments to the continent.

The low coverage was likely because of limited vaccination services, especially in rural areas, as well as vaccine hesitancy, the WHO said.

China had provided more than 1.7 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of November 12 to more than 110 countries and organisations, including 50 African countries and the African Union Commission.

Xi said Beijing would pump US$10 billion into African financial institutions for onward lending to small and medium enterprises. He promised to extend another US$10 billion of its International Monetary Fund allocation of special drawing rights, which would help stabilise foreign exchange reserves.

Further, China will write-off interest-free loans due this year, to help the economies that had been ravaged by the pandemic. Last year, China also promised to write off interest-free loans due at the end of 2020.

Beijing pledged US$60 billion to finance Africa's infrastructure at the forum in Johannesburg in 2015, and a similar amount when the gathering was held in the Chinese capital in 2018. But in the past few years, Chinese lenders, including the policy banks - Exim Bank of China and China Development Bank - have become more cautious and are now demanding bankable feasibility studies amid debt distress in the continent.

However, the Dakar meeting is happening amid turbulence caused by Covid-19 which has hit African countries hard.

Besides seeking more money for projects, African countries are pushing to grow exports of agricultural products into China.

Xi said China would encourage more imports of African agricultural products, and increase the range of zero-tariff goods, aiming for US$300 billion of total imports from Africa in the next three years.

China would also advance US$10 billion of trade financing to support African exports into China. He said the country would also advance another US$10 billion to promote agriculture in Africa, send 500 experts and establish China-Africa joint agro-technology centres and demonstration villages.

Currently, Beijing maintains a massive trade surplus over the continent. African imports from China include machinery, electronics, construction equipment, textiles and footwear.

China sources a substantial amount of raw materials such as oil, cobalt and copper, and also buys some agricultural products such as chillies, cashews, sesame seeds and spices from Africa.

China overtook the United States in 2009 to be the largest trading partner with the continent.

In 2019, two-way trade reached US$208.7 billion before it slightly fell to US$186.97 billion due the impact of the coronavirus pandemic after countries imposed restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

However, trade rose in the first nine months of 2021, growing by 38.2 per cent year on year to a high of US$185.2 billion, which according to Chinese vice commerce minister Qian Keming.

Further, China's direct investment in all industries in Africa amounted to US$2.59 billion, increasing 9.9 per cent year on year. The growth rate was 3 percentage points higher than that of China's total outbound investment, and above the level of the same period in 2019 before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Chinese companies signed US$53.5 billion worth of new contracts in Africa, and posted a turnover of US$26.9 billion, up 22.2 per cent and 11.6 per cent, respectively.

On climate change, Xi said China would support green development projects. "We need to advocate green initiatives, promote solar, wind and other sources of renewable energy and work for effective implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change," he said.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, the co-chair of the forum and host, called on FOCAC to focus on strengthening Africa's pharmaceutical and medical sovereignty, including by developing local skills, research and production capacity.

He hailed China's support for helping Africa to develop infrastructure.

He also urged African countries to develop industrial capacity to enable production of products that could be exported into China. "We encourage Chinese enterprises to invest in Africa," Sall said.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.


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