The coronavirus wasn’t a challenge most countries saw coming, which is why the souring of international ties became the order the pandemic days between China and Africa.
For the most part, Beijing’s treatment of Africans stranded in their country didn’t quite settle with people back in the motherland. Plus, the debt pile issues almost formed the nail on the coffin.
But being that the worst is hopefully yet to come for the two, the coronavirus vaccine stage of the healthcare struggle would have been a good opportunity for China to finally mend fences with Africa.
A promise cut short?
When Covid-19 was still at full throttle, tearing its way across the world, the wealthy nations raced to pre-order stockpiles of vaccines to safeguard their citizens from the extremes of the infection. During that time, President Xi Jinping pledged vaccinating Africans is a priority for Beijing.
When China started donating masks, test kits and other medical equipment in masses, it looked very much like Xi was making good on his promise to the continent. Thankfully, Jack Ma, who is probably Africa’s closest Chinese friend, also did his part by supporting with the same kind of items.
So, as far as the region was concerned, controversy or not, vaccines would be donated. However, China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, just concluded his African tour this weekend, remaining silents about any tangible efforts towards China making it on its vaccine commitment. Nothing about how Beijing will help inoculate Africans out of the pandemic.
The fact is: it is very well within China’s power to honor Xi’s words. The country’s Sinopharm vaccine has been approved by the appropriate bodies for domestic use.
Meanwhile, 4 other Chinese candidates are in the last phase before regulatory approval. Also, unlike most vaccines, China’s concoction doesn’t need ultra-low temperature, which makes it easier to ship to developing countries.
Scores (some millions) of Chinese nationals employed by state-owned enterprises in Africa were shot during the trail phases of of early June 2020. So, as far as we know, it’s now safe for them to work in the continent.
Back to square one?
Between 2014 and 2021, Minister Wang Yi has visited 30 African countries, with Seychelles, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, and Tanzania being the latest stops. Visiting the continent is a tradition that communicates Africa’s diplomatic importance to China.
Not making a single statement about the vaccine commitment for a whole week spent in the continent could send quite the mix of messages. But this is just as vague as the promises themselves, because they do not have any timestamps, quantity metrics or further explanations.
But, now more than ever could be China’s best shot at ditching the promise hat and actually get to work to reconcile with Africa.
In as much as the African Union (AU) has already secured millions of doses, coming through with more could finally thaw the long-freezing ice.
Besides, Jack Ma, Africa’s very own Big Tech benefactor and the closest thing the continent has to a great Chinese friend, has gone missing. After getting into trouble with his government over the historic Ant IPO, he disappeared from the African talent show for entrepreneurs he created himself.
By making good on its vaccine promise, the Xi administration could finally lay the need groundwork to rebuild business bridges between Beijing and Africa.
Featured Image: CGTN