Now, with negative sentiment towards China hardening in Western democracies due to trade wars and human rights issues, African allies — which have crucial voting rights at major international bodies — have arguably become an even more vital bloc for China to keep on side with its so-called vaccine diplomacy.
And while a cold chain vaccine air bridge
from Shenzhen, in southern China, to Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, has been established, and manufacturing capabilities are being set up to make Chinese shots in Cairo, Wang’s trip made it no clearer when Africans can expect to receive a Chinese vaccine — or on what terms.
“The promises concerning vaccines in Africa have been really vague. There has been no timetable, only promises,” said W. Gyude Moore, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and former Liberian minister of public works. “Today, I am not aware of any African country that’s taking delivery of Chinese vaccines.”
The Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs did not reply to CNN’s requests for comment on Beijing’s plans to roll out vaccines in Africa, but state media has rejected
claims that vaccines will be used as a “bargaining chip to expand political influence.”
A power house and a continent in need
Wang’s whistle-stop tour of Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and the Seychelles continued a three-decade tradition of China’s top diplomat making his first international trip each year to Africa.
That tradition signals Africa’s diplomatic importance to China, with stops in places like the Seychelles, a sparsely populated archipelago, proving no nation is insignificant to Beijing, and serves to embarrass Western countries which typically neglect the continent but often view it as within their natural orbit of influence.
The Africa-first protocol was established in 1991, on a basis of mutual underdog brotherhood, but China has fundamentally changed since then. So much so that Wang’s claims, in a video
interview ahead of his trip, that China and Africa had a “shared identity of the developing world,” which had both suffered “weal and woe,” didn’t tally with the two regions’ recent history — and very different experiences of the pandemic.
In 2020, as the world’s second-largest economy, China announced it ended abject poverty
, successfully contained a virus that has floored the globe’s biggest superpower, the United States, and developed some
of the first coronavirus vaccines.
Across Africa, countries didn’t report the huge caseloads seen in India or the United States — as of Thursday, the continent had reported fewer than 70,000 deaths, compared to the 150,000 in India and more than twice that in the US.
The nations Wang visited have particularly low reported numbers, potentially hampered by low testing
. But they felt the economic impacts of the virus deeply
. Many tumbled into recession
and faced a mounting debt crisis, which saw Zambia become the first African nation to default on its debt in a decade. About a quarter
of Zambia’s $12 billion external debt was owed to China, which refused to provide debt relief.
Compounding the debt issue is another potentially worrying, and somewhat ironic,…