Spat be­tween su­per­pow­ers puts South Africa in a sticky sit­u­a­tion


NEARLY 18 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide have con­tracted the Covid-19 virus, and more than 685 000 deaths have been linked to the dis­ease.

All in­di­ca­tions are that it has a nat­u­ral an­i­mal ori­gin and that it is not a ma­nip­u­lated or con­structed virus.

Nev­er­the­less, ac­cu­sa­tions that the virus was cre­ated in a lab­o­ra­tory seem to per­sist, even though the no­tion ap­pears to have been dis­pelled now that many re­searchers have stud­ied the ge­nomic fea­tures of the virus.

No ev­i­dence of it be­ing a lab­o­ra­tory con­struct was found. If it were, the genome se­quence would have shown a mix of known and un­known fea­tures, which it does not.

Yet the US con­tin­ues to in­sin­u­ate that Covid-19 orig­i­nated in a Chi­nese “bi­o­lab”. It also blames China for hav­ing be­haved in­ap­pro­pri­ately apro­pos Covid-19, and the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) for be­ing an aider and abet­tor. It has es­ca­lated to the point where the US of­fi­cially started the process of with­draw­ing from the WHO.

How this grow­ing dis­cord be­tween the US and China will af­fect other na­tions’ re­la­tions with China re­mains to be seen. Whether these ten­sions will sway en­thu­si­asm to fur­ther strengthen ties with China is yet to be de­ter­mined.

That it could have an im­pact can­not be ruled out, es­pe­cially given the cur­rent US ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­cli­na­tion to pres­surise other na­tions to fol­low its lead.

The US is a key strate­gic part­ner to South Africa and other African coun­tries. It is also South Africa’s third-largest trad­ing part­ner. At the same time, South Africa’s strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion with China ex­tends be­yond bi­lat­eral in­ter­ests, as the two na­tions have sim­i­lar views on many global is­sues.

China is also South Africa’s largest trad­ing part­ner. The spat be­tween the US and China there­fore places South Africa in a tricky po­si­tion.

The South African po­si­tion to date has been that the US and China should en­gage in di­a­logue to ad­dress their con­cerns and re­solve their is­sues in a peace­ful and con­struc­tive man­ner.

The pan­demic calls for a glob­ally in­clu­sive so­lu­tion, and there­fore the two global giants’ fo­cus should be on pro­vid­ing sup­port and as­sis­tance to vul­ner­a­ble coun­tries.

As the world’s two largest economies, they both have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help re­store the well-be­ing of peo­ple across the globe by re­viv­ing the world econ­omy, which has been dev­as­tated by the Covid-19 out­break.

Al­ready, the US-China trade war is threat­en­ing the South African and African economies. While Africa is not a di­rect tar­get of the con­flict, the im­pact of the quar­rel is af­fect­ing the con­ti­nent. The im­po­si­tion of US tar­iffs on Chi­nese prod­ucts has caused com­mod­ity prices and lo­cal cur­ren­cies to fall. And ma­jor stock ex­changes across Africa have been badly hit, shak­ing in­vestor con­fi­dence in the con­ti­nent.

The re­sult­ing slow­down of the Chi­nese econ­omy could hin­der the ex­ports and gov­ern­ment rev­enues of many economies across Africa.

For Africa, there is a fur­ther di­men­sion to the US-China Covid-19/WHO dis­so­nance. It re­ceives more than dou­ble the bud­get al­lo­ca­tion of any of the five other re­gions the WHO ad­min­is­ters glob­ally, of which about 60% goes to­wards re­duc­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases.

The US de­ci­sion to cut WHO fund­ing will there­fore have its great­est im­pact on Africa’s abil­ity to fight the pan­demic, since it is prob­a­bly the re­gion least equipped to fight it on its own. South Africa there­fore urges the US to re­con­sider its with­drawal from the WHO. Ul­ti­mately, the ca­pac­ity of all global na­tions is re­quired to help com­bat the deadly Covid-19 pan­demic and sim­i­lar fu­ture out­breaks.

While South Africa has been mea­sured in its re­sponse, this should not be mis­taken for a lack of con­cern over the ten­sions be­tween the US and China, es­pe­cially dur­ing this pe­riod of global tur­moil. Re­solv­ing US-China ten­sions, it be­lieves, is clearly in the global in­ter­est, par­tic­u­larly in so far as it af­fects Africa. Also, for South Africa, which con­sid­ers its re­la­tion­ship with China an im­por­tant ve­hi­cle to achieve its own de­vel­op­ment goals.

In this re­gard, it pur­sues sev­eral agreed co-op­er­a­tion mech­a­nisms with China that pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­change views, adopt best prac­tice and deepen co-op­er­a­tion aimed at cre­at­ing a bet­ter fu­ture for both coun­tries’ peo­ples.

It un­der­stands the com­plex­i­ties and im­por­tance of China’s en­gage­ment with and on the African con­ti­nent. China’s fo­cus has been on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the pro­vi­sion of cru­cial so­cio-eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture.

It has also been will­ing to in­vest in ge­o­graphic ar­eas which other in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, West­ern gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies have steered clear of to date.

In the con­text of Covid-19, this close co-op­er­a­tion was again demon­strated when South Africa and China co-op­er­ated closely on re­search and the ex­change of med­i­cal sup­plies and ex­per­tise dur­ing China’s ini­tial out­break of the coro­n­avirus. South Africa made sev­eral do­na­tions of med­i­cal equip­ment to help China com­bat the virus in the early days.

Sim­i­larly, China is now sup­port­ing South Africa and Africa by sup­ply­ing them with much-needed med­i­cal equip­ment, train­ing and in­for­ma­tion, and de­ploy­ing med­i­cal re­search teams.

As to whether the Covid-19charged dis­cord be­tween the US and China has had an ad­verse im­pact on Sino-South Africa and/or Sino-African re­la­tions, it ap­pears not.

If any­thing, the sus­tained level of Chi­nese in­volve­ment on the African con­ti­nent, whether Covid-19-re­lated or not, has served to strengthen re­la­tion­ships. At­tempts to weaken trust in China and its in­ten­tions do not mea­sure up to the re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­enced by Africa’s lead­ers.

Daryl Swanepoel is chief ex­ec­u­tive of The In­clu­sive So­ci­ety In­sti­tute which re­cently re­leased a re­port ti­tled “Covid19 US-China dis­cord and its im­pact on Sino-South Africa and Sino-African re­la­tions”.

DI­REC­TOR-GEN­ERAL of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus, left, and Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. The US de­ci­sion to cut WHO fund­ing will have its great­est im­pact on Africa’s abil­ity to fight the pan­demic be­cause it is prob­a­bly the re­gion least equipped to fight it on its own, the writer says. |

AP African News Agency (ANA)

US PRES­I­DENT Don­ald Trump, left, and China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. As the world’s two largest economies, both coun­tries have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help re­store the well-be­ing of peo­ple across the globe by re­viv­ing the world econ­omy, which has been dev­as­tated by the Covid-19 out­break, the writer says. |


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