After the outbreak of COVID-19 in the world and its spread to the African countries, most of which have weak and fragile economic and social conditions, they started to take preventive measures to tackle the epidemic and asked for assistance from the countries and organizations outside the continent, particularly from the sponsor states and the partners of Africa. China, a strategic partner of Africa that has expanded its relations with the African countries in all fields over the past three decades, overtook the other rivals, gave the Africans the highest amount of loan and help, and was one of the first countries to provide aid. Providing relief aid, the shipment of the necessary supplies, particularly the medical and health items, and dispatch of medical teams to the African countries were put on China’s agenda and implemented. China’s assistance was so helpful that it received praise in the first African Union summit on the fight against coronavirus. The support was undoubtedly yet another step in strengthening diplomatic relations, bringing China and Africa closer together, and enhancing China’s influence on the African people and statesmen.
On the other hand, the US, which is in a constant state of rivalry with China and tries to damage the image of China among Africans, took advantage of the Guangzhou authorities and police’ mistreatment of the African nationals residing in the Chinese city, voiced support for the Africans immediately at a high level, and slammed China’s measure as racial prejudice. The American and Western propaganda tools also stepped in to use the opportunity to damage the relations between China and Africa. Such policy provoked debates at first. Critical and furious reports were released in the African media and the virtual space and images of mistreatment of the black migrants were published, which tainted the image of China in Africa to some extent. Beijing came under pressure for such mistreatment. The Chinese were harassed in a number of African countries such as Nigeria and Zambia. The African ambassadors to Beijing released statements, protesting against the mistreatment of Africans. The Chinese ambassadors to several African countries and to the African Union were also summoned and received letters of protest. In turn, the Chinese government tried to control the situation. President of China held telephone conversations with the heads of several African countries. The Chinese deputy foreign minister held meetings with the African ambassadors to Beijing, and the Foreign Ministry spokesperson also adopted a stance. They highlighted close relations with the African countries and reaffirmed commitment to maintaining and promoting ties and to continuing the friendly supports for the African states. China also denied reports of harassment and ill treatment of Africans, described them as trivial cases resulting from a personal mistake, and refuted the US’ claims. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied any discrimination against African brothers, saying the authorities have launched an investigation into the case and have taken serious measures in this regard. The spokesperson also dismissed the allegations leveled by the US that authorities in the city of Guangzhou have mistreated foreigners of African appearance, saying the US has made such accusations to harm China’s relations with African nations. He also noted that in the current situation when the entire world requires solidarity, the US’ claim was a selfish, provocative, immoral, and irresponsible move that could not undermine the friendship between China and Africa.
In the meanwhile, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19, co-chaired by the African Union and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), was held via a video connection on June 17, 2020, in Beijing at the invitation of President of China. The summit was attended by the president of China, presidents of the African Union Commission member states (eight countries), presidents of the Regional Economic Communities (nine countries), president of the Republic of Senegal as the co-chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and the chairperson of the African Union Commission. Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) were also invited as special guests to the summit. The purpose of the summit was to use the mechanism of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation for mobilizing the capacities in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. In the summit, the African leaders expressed gratitude to China for its assistance and for holding the conference, provided a description of the disease conditions in Africa, and stressed the need for foreign aids in the battle with the coronavirus pandemic. President of China Xi Jinping, for his part, said his country will always remember the invaluable support from the African countries at the height of the battle with the coronavirus. He also noted that when Africa was struck by the coronavirus, China was the first to rush in with assistance and has since stood firm with the African people. Xi also noted that China will work with Africa to uphold the UN-centered global governance system and support the WHO in making a greater contribution to the global COVID-19 response. The Chinese president emphasized that governments and people in Africa have put up a united front and, under the effective coordination by the African Union, have taken strong measures to effectively slow the spread of the coronavirus. He further pledged that China will cancel the debt or extend the period of debt suspension of relevant African countries, promising that once the development and deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine are completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit. Xi also announced that China will start ahead of schedule the construction of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) headquarters this year, adding that China will speed up the construction of China-Africa Friendship Hospitals and the cooperation between paired-up Chinese and African hospitals to build a China-Africa community of health for all. Xi said his country stays committed to taking China-Africa friendship forward.
The joint statement of the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 has voiced concern about the immediate challenges posed by the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, stressed the need for support for and solidarity with Africa in the fight against the disease, called on the international community to support Africa and lift the sanctions against Zimbabwe and Sudan, commended China for its supports and commitment to providing more help for the African countries, the African Union and other regional organizations in the continent, supported the measures taken by the UN Secretary-General and Director-General of the World Health Organization, expressed commitment to extending mutual support on issues regarding each other's core interests, opposed interference in Africa's internal affairs by external forces, supported China's position on Taiwan and Hong Kong, reaffirmed commitment to supporting multilateralism and opposing unilateralism, recognized the positive role of China-Africa investment and financing cooperation in promoting development and improving people's lives in Africa, supported the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area, highlighted the serious attention that China gives to the debt concerns of African countries and its earnest action on the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, supported the decisive measures taken by the Chinese government to contain the spread of coronavirus and its timely sharing of information with WHO, and reaffirmed China’s commitment to expediting the construction of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) headquarters and making the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine available to the African countries immediately after development.
The remarkable and maximal presence of the African leaders and senior directors of the international organizations involved in the coronavirus battle in the summit demonstrated that the conference has been held at the highest level despite the problems created in the relations between China and the African countries and the American and Western attempts to damage the image of China in Africa. The subjects discussed in the summit and the contents of its final statement point to the conclusion that the conference has been successful and the demands of both sides have been met. The Africans have achieved their objective, which was attracting support and assistance for the fight against the coronavirus outbreak and easing the debt burden or suspending the debt payments, while China has also attained its foreign policy goals in the regional and international arenas and has displayed its public diplomacy and soft power. China continued and stepped up supports for Africa in the battle with the COVID-19 outbreak after the summit. China provided extensive medical aids for more than 50 African countries and the African Union, dispatched expert medical teams to some 15 countries, and held more than 30 videoconferences involving experts. At least 46 Chinese medical teams in Africa have carried out programs against the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s move to hold the summit in the special conditions reveals the Chinese leaders’ understanding of the opportunities, the significance they attach to Africa, and the detailed planning to achieve the foreign policy objectives in the African continent. By launching this program, taking complementary measures, and offering assistance to Africa, China alleviated the consequences of mistreatment of African nationals, strengthened its position in Africa, and created a strong image of a friend and an understanding and supportive partner. As a result, China thwarted the US’ attempts at taking advantage of the situation and the Guangzhou incidents with the purpose of damaging China’s image among the Africans and driving a wedge between them.
 All invitees took part in the summit.
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)