By IKENNA EMEWU
In just one week, China riding on the crest of two influential diplomatic organs hosted two major international summits to foster unity, synergy and positive results in the efforts of humanity to overcome the common challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First was the parley it hosted online on June 17 with African leaders on the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) platform.
Just immediately after that, on a different outstanding diplomatic circle, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it took yet another major stride to brainstorm with 25 countries, all BRI members, on the best way the world should work together to defeat the pandemic.
Again, this summit held online and scored its points.
One thing outstanding is that outside intergovernmental agencies like the WHO at the centre of the pandemic war, only China has organized herself to discuss with other countries on how the world pulls resources together to overcome this daunting challenge.
These furthered the importance of these diplomatic platforms championed mainly by China.
The achievements of the Belt and Road Initiative have been diverse and far reaching. It started in 2013, but effectively came into force in 2017. I was a witness to the roll out in Beijing in May 2017, among over 2,500 local and international journalists that covered the event. On that day, at least 29 presidents attended and also the UN Secretary General and DG of the IMF, Christine Lagard. Today, the BRI has about 137 countries that have signed up as members. That is a sign of its strength and acceptability. Already, the BRI has become the next largest global platform after the UN. In addition, the objectives have been expanding and making progress in diverse way as new issues evolve like the coronavirus that was never envisaged at the time of BRI formation. Sometime last year, China announced some 60% increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) among BRI member states. The initiative has achieved so much mileage in a short period and with the way it steps forward, itâ€™s going to make more impacts
Last year, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) incepted. It is a laudable effort of the African Union (AU) towards a better economic integration among African countries leveraging on easier trade possibilities. Right now, trade volume among African countries is just a paltry 15%. It implies that African countries rely on external goods to survive. With AfCFTA, the continent, an emerging economy is surer of freer trade terms especially at a time the continent would likely produce the next DG of the World Trade Organsiation (WTO) in September 2021.
Juxtaposed with the BRI in Africa where almost all countries of Africa have already signed up as members, it would be a smooth link between China and Africa using the AfCFTA and BRI. Right now, China is the indisputable largest trading partner of Africa and has been so in the past 10 years. As at 2019, Nigeria’s trade volume with China had increased by 70% and also had started inching away from just raw materials to finished goods, though in low volume. Bearing in mind that in the FOCAC Summit of September 2018, President Xi Jinping in his keynote speech was specific in calling on Chinese investors to do more in helping the growth of Africa in manufacturing and also asked importers from Africa to target more on finished goods, so there are great prospects that the BRI would benefit Africa and China in broader ways than earlier envisaged at the take-off of the BRI. China in the past 20 years of FOCAC had assisted to lay the foundation for the anticipated AfCFTA/BRI synergy with its efforts in assisting some countries to build transport infrastructure like railroads, airports, seaports and internal road linkages as contractors and credit facilitors.
The assurance and resolve of President Xi the online summit of last week of better cooperation and using the BRI as medium for solving world challenges is most adequate today given the global challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. I agree with his positon because the world is surely going to embrace a new order that would entail doing things differently. I think China is already aware of that new trend that has come.
On June 17, China had a similar summit with African countries to discuss cooperation to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. A good example of the need to cooperate more stems even from the format of summits that hold online these days. The pandemic that has the entire humanity in its stride has shown countries like never before that we share common fate and need to work closer together and only cooperation would help the world out of this. All countries suffer the deaths, infections and economic downturn, a sign that we live under same roof and face just the same benefits if we work together or the same hazards if we work otherwise.
The timing of the BRI Summit is most auspicious. It’s now or never. Al the unity and integration the world needs is just now and it would not have come at a better time as countries would never come together to discuss without achieving results.
The timing of the summit is worth commending and would wish more of such hold among the different parts of the world for better synergy to handle the present global; health and economic challenges.