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Strengthening solidarity


China will deepen its cooperation with Africa in a big way to help set it on the path to post-pandemic recovery

Last year, as the pandemic was raging, China and Africa extended a helping hand to each other, as evidenced by an Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in June.

This year is an extraordinary year for both China and Africa, being the start of China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period and the first year of the African Continental Free Trade Area. At the start of 2021, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited five African countries, continuing a 31-year tradition of Chinese foreign ministers choosing Africa for their first official overseas trip every year, proof of China's rock-solid friendship with Africa.

During his trip, Wang said that the Chinese government will, as always, support African countries in their efforts to maintain political stability and pursue economic and social development.

This year is also the final year for implementing the outcomes from the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in 2018. Over the past three years the two sides have been advancing pragmatic cooperation in politics, security, the economy and trade.

All FOCAC meetings are examples of multilateral international cooperation for mutual benefits and win-win results. Previous meetings have outlined specific short-term development goals for both sides. With high hopes set on the next forum scheduled to be held in Senegal this year, both sides see it as an opportunity to promote economic recovery, integrate the African Union's Agenda 2063 (a master plan to transform Africa into a global powerhouse) with the Belt and Road Initiative, and build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future in the post-pandemic era.

The cooperation plan signed between China and the African Union at the end of 2020 to jointly advance the construction of the Belt and Road has become a new driving force for Sino-African collaborations. In 2021, China will sign memorandums of understanding on cooperation with more African countries and take active role in infrastructure building in Africa to boost connectivity on the continent.

Under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, China will encourage Chinese businesses to step up investment in Africa's manufacturing sector, through projects that reflect the changes in African countries' production and consumption structure. The idea is to match Africa's advantages in resources and labor with China's strengths in capital and technology to increase the added value of products and make them more competitive globally.

With the official launch of the AfCFTA, Africa will gradually establish a single market and embrace international cooperation more openly, thus creating opportunities for China-Africa economic and trade cooperation in more areas.

China will help Africa build the free trade area in terms of infrastructure, trade and investment, supply chain connectivity and experience sharing, so as to create synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the AfCFTA and fostering an enormous common market.

Another fertile area for cooperation is the digital economy. Developing Africa's digital economy is key for African countries to promote their economic recovery. The African Union adopted the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa in May 2020. In 2021, China and Africa can deepen cooperation in digital infrastructure, e-commerce, mobile payments, telemedicine, distance education, fintech, the pan-entertainment industry, logistics, smart transportation, smart cities, and the digital transformation of traditional industries. With their rich experience in the digital economy and cost-effective digital solutions, Chinese businesses can help Africa unlock the potential of the digital economy to jointly build a "Digital Africa".Working together, the two sides can ensure the inclusive development of new technologies for technology inclusion.

China will further explore cooperation with Africa in conflict prevention and management by helping enhance the counterterrorism capabilities of African countries and promote their sustainable peace-building capacity, including improving Africa's food security through green agricultural cooperation and food aid. It will also keep an eye on natural disasters and other issues induced by climate change and push for more practical cooperation in tackling climate change.

As a second wave of the pandemic is sweeping across Africa, China continues to provide anti-pandemic supplies to the best of its ability, and pair up its hospitals with those in African countries to provide one-on-one assistance. It is also committed to finishing the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters. Vaccine cooperation will be the high point of the joint China-Africa pandemic response this year. Up to now, Chinese vaccines have been delivered to Egypt, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, and Equatorial Guinea, among other countries. China will continue to accelerate the construction of cold chain logistic channels to transport and distribute vaccines to Africa. As some African countries hope to locally produce Chinese vaccines, China will consider building production bases there when possible.

The debt pressure on some African countries will increase in 2021. The international community is trying to bail them out. Last year, the G20 implemented the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, but several African countries are unwilling to sign up due to limited debt relief and concerns over being labeled a bigger default risk, which will lead to a lower sovereign credit rating that might hurt future financing. They hope for a more favorable debt relief plan, for which the international community needs not only sincerity but also innovative plans that are timely and responsive. Among G20 members, China initiated and implemented the DSSI with the largest amount of debt relief in 2020. Under dual pressure from Western creditors and African debtors, China needs to explore new mechanisms for debt disposal. China and Africa will have more extensive and in-depth discussions and dialogues to jointly explore proper ways to debt relief.

That apart, in 2021, China and Africa will also collaborate on governance exchanges, poverty alleviation, the blue economy, new energy adoption and wildlife protection. So there is so much to look forward to.

The author is executive director and a research fellow of the China-Africa Research Institute. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.