An interview by the African News Agency with His Excellency, Ambassador-designate of China to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong.
Q: China has become the first major economy to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under effective control and restore growth. With the strong support of China and other members of the international community, the pandemic situation in South Africa and other African countries is also getting better.
We have noted that President Xi Jinping pointed out in his address at the General Debate of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly that more support and assistance shall be given to developing countries, especially African countries amid Covid-19.
Could you brief us on the measures China will take to support South Africa and other African countries’ Covid-19 response going forward?
A: Under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, and thanks to China’s solid national strength built in the past 71 years, China has achieved major strategic outcomes in its battle against the pandemic.
The Chinese government has made co-ordinated progress in pandemic response and the reopening of its economy. China has become the first major economy to restore growth since the outbreak, which demonstrates the great resilience and vitality of our country.
Following the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind, China has provided strong support to African brothers’ fight against the pandemic. As of the beginning of September this year, the Chinese government has delivered more than 400 tons of emergency anti-pandemic supplies to 53 African countries and the AU, and assisted 21 African countries in signing procurement contracts worth over $54million (about R892m) with China.
China has also sent medical expert teams to 13 African countries. Forty six hospitals from 42 African countries have initially confirmed their participation in China-Africa pair-up hospitals co-operation mechanism.
China has inked the implementation agreement with the AU for the construction of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Headquarters project so as to ensure that the construction will start within this year.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Chinese government and people from all walks of life and the Chinese communities and enterprises in South Africa have donated large amounts of anti-pandemic supplies to South Africa. We will provide another batch of anti-pandemic supplies including nucleic acid extraction reagents in light of South Africa’s needs.
Solidarity and co-operation are the most powerful weapons to defeat Covid-19. At such multilateral occasions as the 75th UN General Assembly, the 73rd World Health Assembly, the Extraordinary G20 Summit on Covid-19, and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19, President Xi Jinping announced a host of measures to support Africa’s fight against the pandemic, which have been widely acclaimed by Africa and the international community.
We will spare no time to deliver on the relevant commitments made by President Xi Jinping and continue to provide support to the anti-pandemic efforts of South Africa and other African countries.
First, China will fully support Africa in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. China will continue to provide anti-pandemic supplies, send medical expert teams and share best anti-pandemic practices with African countries, and assist Africa in purchasing anti-pandemic supplies.
Several vaccines developed by China have entered the phase III clinical trials. After being put into use, they will be made global public goods to benefit African countries first. China signed an agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to officially join Covax on October 8, which is an important step China has taken to honour its commitment to build a global community of health for all.
Second, China will honour its commitment on debt relief and suspension for Africa. China has declared it will cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020 and encourage relevant Chinese financial institutions to conduct friendly negotiations with African countries on commercial sovereign loan arrangements in accordance with market principles.
Recently the Export-Import Bank of China, as an official bilateral creditor, has signed debt suspension agreements with 11 African countries. China will waive interest-free loans due to mature by the end of 2020 for 15 African countries. On the basis of implementing the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), China will further extend the debt mitigation period for relevant countries, including African countries.
Third, China will help Africa with its post-Covid-19 economic recovery. China will continue to encourage more Chinese enterprises to return to Africa to resume work and production, seek greater synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative with the 2063 Agenda of the AU, and speed up the implementation of the outcomes of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19.
We shall step up co-operation in priority areas like public health, economic recovery and the improvement of people’s livelihoods.
We shall work together to build more industrial parks and special economic zones, promote trade and investment facilitation, and jointly create new highlights in our co-operation in such areas as the digital economy, e-commerce, smart cities, and 5G.
Fourth, China will support the sustainable development of Africa in various fields. During the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly, President Xi Jinping announced that China will provide another $50 million to the UN Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, and offer $50 million to the China-FAO South-South Co-operation Trust Fund (Phase III).
China will implement President Xi Jinping’s commitments and deepen co-operation with Africa in the fields of agriculture, poverty reduction, education, women and children, climate change, and food security so as to help African countries achieve sustainable development.
Q: With the pandemic situation getting better, South Africa, China and many other countries in the world are resuming work and production to restore growth. As you assumed your new post as the Chinese Ambassador to South Africa at such a critical juncture, what are your expectations for the practical co-operation between South Africa and China in the post-Covid-19 era? Are there any potential areas or new highlights in our co-operation?
A: It is a great honour to serve as the sixth Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of South Africa. As Assistant Foreign Minister covering Africa, I made many trips to South Africa and other African countries. I saw for myself the fast and all-round progress of China-South Africa and China-Africa relations.
In recent years, under the guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Cyril Ramaphosa, the China-South Africa comprehensive strategic partnership has been growing soundly and smoothly, and our trade and economic co-operation has yielded fruitful outcomes.
China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for 11 years in a row, and South Africa has been China’s largest trading partner in Africa for 10 consecutive years.
In 2019, the two-way trade between China and South Africa exceeded $42billion, accounting for one-fifth of the total trade volume between China and Africa. There are more than 200 Chinese enterprises in South Africa, with a total investment and financing of more than $25bn, creating 400000 jobs for local people.
Despite the impact of the Covid-19, the China-South Africa practical co-operation and bilateral trade have maintained strong momentum and great resilience. According to data released by the South African Customs, from January to July this year China-South Africa bilateral trade accounted for 15.48% of South Africa’s total foreign trade volume, registering a year-on-year increase of 0.83%.
We are glad to see that under the leadership of President Ramaphosa and the ANC government, the pandemic situation in South Africa is getting better and the economic and social activities are getting back on track.
President Ramaphosa recently unveiled the economic reconstruction and recovery plan, drawing a blueprint for South Africa’s economic restoration and growth.
China will enter the “14th Five-Year Plan” period starting from 2021. This will be the first five-year period after China completes the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and achieves its first centenary goal.
China will build on this momentum to embark on a new journey toward building a socialist modern country in an all-round way and achieving the second centenary goal.
As the first major economy to restore growth since the outbreak, China has tapped into its huge market and the big potential of domestic demand. We are now fostering a new economic dynamic with free flowing domestic circulation as the mainstay and mutually reinforced by international circulation.
China remains committed to opening wider to the outside world, sharing its best practices with South Africa and other African countries, and driving the economic recovery and growth of South Africa, Africa and all countries around the world through its own development. Going forward, in light of our own development strategies and plans, as well as the key areas and projects identified in South Africa’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan, China will join hands with South Africa to explore new ways and areas for co-operation.
We shall give full play to our complementary advantages and deepen our practical co-operation in such fields as investment, trade and infrastructure construction. We will create new highlights of China-South Africa co-operation in emerging areas such as digital economy and renewable energy so as to support South Africa’s economic restoration.
First, we shall promote trade and investment co-operation. China supports South Africa in expanding its export of high-quality agricultural products to China which has the world’s largest and full-fledged e-commerce market and world-renowned e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and JD.com. Going forward, our two countries could strengthen co-operation in the field of cross-border e-commerce and promote the export of more South African speciality and high-quality agricultural products to China.
We welcome South Africa’s participation in the 3rd China International Import Expo. China is also willing to encourage more capable Chinese companies to participate in the 3rd South Africa Investment Conference and support the South African government in expanding investment and creating jobs with concrete actions.
Second, we shall promote our co-operation in infrastructure construction. In light of the key areas identified in South Africa’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan and the key projects in the “New Infrastructure Plan”, China will encourage the Chinese companies with capital resources and technological edge to participate in South Africa’s infrastructure construction, so as to help South Africa upgrade its infrastructure sector, grow its economy, create more jobs, and improve its people’s livelihood.
Third, we shall create new highlights in our scientific and technological innovation co-operation. China is willing to strengthen co-operation with South Africa in the fields of digital economy, 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce to help South Africa seize the opportunities brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We will encourage Huawei to strengthen technological exchanges and R&D co-operation with South African companies so as to deliver more tangible benefits to our two peoples. China is willing to work with SA to advance the China-South Africa Science Park Programme as soon as possible and jointly promote the construction of cross-border incubators.
China will encourage companies to invest and participate in the construction of new energy projects in South Africa to strengthen our co-operation in the field of renewable energy.
Q: One of the challenges facing South Africa-China relations is that despite the close political exchanges and economic cooperation between our two countries, the mutual understanding between our two peoples is still far from enough and sometimes there are even misunderstandings between us. How will you promote the cultural and people-to-people exchanges between our two countries and help the Chinese communities, enterprises and students in South Africa to integrate into the local community during your tenure?
A: People-to-people amity holds the key to state-to-state relations. China and South Africa have maintained close cultural and people-to-people exchanges. We have established the first high-level people-to-people exchange mechanism between China and African countries. We have held the Year of China and the Year of South Africa in each other’s countries for the first time in the history of China-Africa relations. South Africa has attracted more Chinese tourists and established sister relations with more Chinese provinces and cities than any other Sub-Saharan African country. China has become an increasingly popular destination for South African students and tourists.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the Chinese communities in South Africa have made cash and in-kind donations to support South Africa’s pandemic response, which has been widely acclaimed by the South African government and people from all walks of life. This speaks volumes about the profound friendship between our two peoples in trying times and has played an important role in enhancing the mutual understanding between our two peoples.
Going forward, we will continue to implement the Eight Major Initiatives proposed at the FOCAC Beijing Summit and strengthen our exchanges and cooperation in such fields as economy, society, culture, medicine, public health, youth and women, so as to translate the people-to-people exchanges into a strong driving force for the growth of our relations.
First, China and South Africa shall expand practical cooperation in the field of people-to-people exchanges. We will continue to promote educational exchanges and cooperation between China and South Africa. we will strengthen the exchanges between Chinese and South African universities and young students through providing scholarships and training opportunities, so as to enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the young generations of our two countries.
We shall expand tourism cooperation and encourage more people to travel to each other’s countries, so as to promote the economic development of our two countries and bring our two people closer. We will also build more platforms for exchanges and cooperation between the media and think tanks of our two countries so as to enable our two peoples to know more about each other’s countries.
Second, China and South Africa shall continue to strengthen ideas and cultural exchanges. Africa is the cradle of human civilization, while China is one of the world’s four ancient civilizations. Our two sides share the same or similar values, including the respect for ancestors, family and community. There are many similarities between Africa’s Ubuntu philosophy and the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind proposed by President Xi Jinping.
We will encourage the think tanks, universities, and the cultural institutions from our two countries to hold more forums, seminars, and art and cultural exhibitions. We will continue to host events such as BRICS film festival, cultural festival and “Happy Chinese New Year”, so as to bring more African cultural elements to China, promote the mutual learning and common development of our cultures, and provide more intellectual support for building a closer China-South Africa and China-Africa community with a shared future.
Third, we will encourage Chinese communities to better integrate into local communities. The Chinese communities, enterprises and students in South Africa have all made important contributions to the development of this beautiful rainbow nation with their concrete actions and dedication. We will continue to support and encourage them to abide by local laws, respect local cultural traditions, religious beliefs and ethnic customs, and make friends with local communities. We will encourage them to participate in and promote the friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and South Africa in various fields, earnestly fulfill their social responsibilities to benefit the local communities, and contribute to the social development of South Africa with their own development.
Q: During the fight against the pandemic, both South Africa and China firmly uphold multilateralism and support the core leading role played by the WHO. How do you view the cooperation between China and South Africa under such multilateral frameworks as the FOCAC, the African Union, BRICS, G20, and the United Nations? How will our two sides advance our coordination and cooperation in multilateral affairs?
A: As the only African member of the BRICS and G20, as well as the rotating Chair of the African Union and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council this year, South Africa has an important role to play in regional and global ffairs. As two important developing countries and emerging markets, China and South Africa share the same or similar views on development, security, and international order, and have broad consensus on major international and regional issues. We have maintained close coordination, and carried out fruitful cooperation under such multilateral mechanisms as the UN, G20, BRICS and FOCAC.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of FOCAC. China and South Africa co-hosted the 2015 Johannesburg Summit and the 2018 Beijing Summit. Our two countries have worked for the follow-up implementation of China-Africa “Ten Cooperation Plans” and “Eight Major Initiatives”, and made important contributions to the development of the FOCAC. Not long ago, President Xi Jinping and President Ramaphosa co-hosted the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19, which has played an important role in promoting China-Africa anti-pandemic cooperation and building a stronger China-Africa community with a shared future.
With regard to BRICS cooperation, China and South Africa respectively hosted the 2017 BRICS Xiamen Summit and the 2018 Johannesburg Summit. Our two countries are committed to promoting the solidarity, cooperation and innovation-driven development of the BRICS members. In the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, we have jointly ushered in the second “Golden Decade” of BRICS cooperation.
Both China and South Africa support the G20 in strengthening global economic governance and promoting world economic development. We support the implementation of the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China and South Africa have firmly upheld multilateralism, supported the WHO in playing a positive role in global Covid-19 response, and jointly promoted the international community to strengthen solidarity and cooperation to fight against the pandemic. During the 75th UN General Assembly and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against Covid-19, both China and South Africa stood for upholding multilateralism, opposing unilateralism and protectionism, and giving full play to the core role played by the United Nations so as to build a community with a shared future for mankind.
At this critical juncture bearing on the future of the world, China is willing to work with South Africa to strengthen communication and coordination in multilateral affairs, safeguard the UN-centered international system, the international order based on international law and the WTO-centered multilateral trading regime.
We shall step up our cooperation under the framework of BRICS, G20 and FOCAC, and respect and accommodate each other’s core interests and concerns in international and regional affairs including climate change, poverty reduction, human rights and South-South cooperation. In doing so, we will jointly advance the reform of global governance system, and safeguard the interests of developing countries, so as to achieve win-win cooperation for common development.