FOCAC grows in pragmatic cooperation since its inception two decades ago

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A Chinese volunteer teaches paper-cutting to students at the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, on September 21, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

On October 7, the air cargo route from Wuhan in central China to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa became operational as the first flight took off, carrying nucleic acid test kits to detect the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), masks and other epidemic prevention materials.

It was a telling gesture with the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) celebrating its 20th anniversary the same month. FOCAC, already an important platform for collective dialogue and practical cooperation between China and Africa, has, in the wake of the global pandemic, shown its role in enhancing support between the two sides to tackle the disease.

In a joint congratulatory message to mark FOCAC's 20th anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Senegalese President Macky Sall said China and Africa are ready to jointly cope with risks and challenges. Senegal is the current African co-chair of FOCAC. They also hoped it would set an example of multilateralism and mutual benefits.

Workers unload anti-epidemic materials provided by the Chinese Government in Cairo, Egypt, on May 10. [Photo/Xinhua]

Healthcare cooperation

The China-Africa medical cooperation goes back to 1963 when the first Chinese medical team was sent to newly independent Algeria to help build up its health service capability. Since then, around 243,000 Chinese doctors and nurses have served in African countries and treated more than 220 million patients over the past 57 years, according to the National Health Commission of China.

At the 2006 FOCAC Summit in Beijing, then President Hu Jintao announced that China would assist to build 30 malaria prevention and treatment centers in Africa as part of its assistance to the continent's anti-malaria campaign. The 2015 summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, also listed public health cooperation as a priority area.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity to strengthen health cooperation.

During the most difficult period in China's combat against COVID-19, African countries stood with China firmly to fight the virus as well as a maligning campaign against China by some countries. And when COVID-19 spread in Africa, China reciprocated, sending medical supplies and experts and sharing its prevention and control experience with African health professionals at webinars.

Besides the government, Chinese enterprises and civil organizations have also chipped in. The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation donated essential medical supplies, including 10.6 million masks and 800 ventilators, to Africa.

"When people are determined, they can overcome anything," read the message on some of the packages. It was a quote by Nelson Mandela.

In June, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 was held online to discuss how to tackle the challenge. Xi said at the meeting that greater priority will be given to cooperation on public health, reaffirming the commitment to initiatives and measures to help Africa build its capacity for disease prevention and control and for sustainable development.

Xi announced that the construction of the headquarters of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU), would begin this year on the outskirts of Addis Ababa ahead of schedule.

He also said China, which is working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine, will make the vaccine available when it is ready as a global public good. It will be part of its contribution to ensuing vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries, especially in African nations.

Improving lives

In his address to mark FOCAC's 20th anniversary, Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi said the China-Africa relationship has grown from a new type of partnership into a new type of strategic partnership and then a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership.

China has been Africa's largest trading partner for 11 successive years, contributing more than 20 percent to Africa's growth. In 2019 China-Africa trade reached $208.7 billion, 20 times the size in 2000.

Many flagship projects, such as the AU Conference Center in Addis Ababa, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway and the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, are operational today. China had helped build more than 6,000 km of railways and roads, respectively, as well as nearly 20 ports and more than 80 large power plants in Africa by 2019. These have powerfully boosted industrialization on the continent and its ability for independent development.

Cooperation in other fields, from science, education, culture, health, to people-to-people exchanges, peace and security, is also making significant headway, Wang said.

In 2018, the Malawi Government launched a satellite TV project with assistance from the Chinese Government for 500 rural communities. It has since become an important channel for local people to access information from the outside world.

Members of a Chinese medical expert team interact with a local doctor in Juba, capital of South Sudan, on August 21. [Photo/Xinhua]

Strengthened trade

In August, a cocoa trading center was opened in Hunan Province in central China. The African Cocoa Marketing Center in Changsha, capital of Hunan, will initially buy cocoa mainly from Ghana, before bringing in products from more African countries.

"I am confident that every tasty chocolate enjoyed in China has some quantity of Ghana's premium cocoa as part of its ingredients," Edward Boateng, Ghanaian Ambassador to China, said.

In recent years, Hunan has strengthened trade cooperation with African countries. Last year, the First China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo was held in Changsha. The expo, announced at the FOCAC Summit in Beijing in September 2018, was established to boost two-way exports and imports in terms of goods and services. The event saw 84 deals worth $20.8 billion in trade, agriculture, tourism and other fields.

Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, China-Africa economic and trade cooperation has not come to a halt. Over 1,100 Chinese projects continue operating in Africa. During the first four months of this year, China's investment in Africa grew by 4.4 percent compared with the same period last year. Bilateral trade reached over $80 billion in the first half of this year, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce of China.

More plans for cooperation are on the anvil. China will support Africa in developing the Single African Air Transport Market, a flagship project of AU Agenda 2063 with the opening of more air routes and sea lanes connecting China and Africa by Chinese and African airlines and shipping companies. They will also cooperate in building smart cities in Africa and enhancing African countries' information and communications technology to safeguard public security, counter terrorism and fight crime. A China-Africa Energy Cooperation Center is planned in Africa to facilitate the implementation of related projects.

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