By Sun Haoran
Ethiopia’s Ambassador to China said he believed the China-Ethiopia partnership would strengthen after the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing that China-Africa relations have always been based on mutual respect and benefit.
As for the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the country, Ambassador Teshome Toga Chanaka told the Global Times in an exclusive interview that “social distancing and other measures aimed at protection and control of the virus might affect the timely completion but for sure the projects are working in progress.”
Ethiopia’s BRI projects include the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the economic corridor, and the development of the industrial park.
“Many economic movements and other projects execution will be slowed but we hope that as soon as the situation improves implementation will be enhanced,” said the diplomat. China and Africa have been working together closely in tackling the coronavirus and “the pandemic will strengthen China-Africa friendship, solidarity and cooperation in the coming times,” Chanaka said.
China-Ethiopia cooperation amid pandemic
There are roughly 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent, with Ethiopia reporting over 123, according to public statistics. Experts warned the continent might face an outbreak disaster and humanitarian crises due to the fragile health care systems of several nations.
The UN and World Health Organization (WHO) warned that COVID-19 is on a rise in Africa and if measures could not be taken to enhance prevention and control, the damage would be severe.
“As Africa has fragile healthcare facilities, efforts should be made to enhance the continent’s capacity to investigate alerts, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection, ensure prevention and control of COVID-19,” the ambassador said.
Some observers questioned that compared to other developed countries and regions, the relatively low confirmed COVID-19 cases might not tell the whole story, as Ethiopia doesn’t have enough test kits to conduct mass testing.
In response, the Ethiopian diplomat told the Global Times that their government is working relentlessly to strengthen national efforts to enhance its emergency preparedness and response through the establishment of a task force at the national and regional levels, and has prepared isolation centers for detection and contact tracing with confirmed cases in and out of Addis Ababa, and deployed human resources to manage the isolation centers.
Chanaka admitted the number of infected people might increase if mass testing is employed.
The capacity is being built but has not reached to the required level, he said. “We are in need of foreign assistance and philanthropic support to procure medical supplies and equipment which will be used to fight the spread of the pandemic in our country.”
According to Chanaka, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from China and Ethiopia are now actively cooperating to build a strong African public health infrastructure by sharing information, providing expertise, and expanding resources.
A team of 12 Chinese medical experts, including specialists in infectious diseases, respiratory and critical care, and public health, arrived at Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on April 16 to assist the country in its fight against COVID-19.
Chanaka praised China’s help by sharing its resources and experts.
Ethiopian public health authorities identified items they are in critical shortage of such as ventilators, patient monitors, suction machine, oxygen face masks, test kits, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Chanaka said the logistics are another challenge as flight services have stopped due to the outbreak. Ethiopian officials are working with pertinent Chinese government agencies to assist Ethiopia in this regard.
No discrimination against Africans
The diplomat noted that the year 2020 marks the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between China and Ethiopia, and they “have over the years forged strong partnership at all levels and in all sectors,” which “was further enhanced during the fight against COVID-19.”
“Both believe the victory over COVID-19 and post pandemic equally require global strategy and unity,” he added.
The envoy refuted reports by Western media outlets, claiming that Africans in China have faced discrimination because of the virus.
He said that during the outbreak, there were over 4,000 African students in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei Province and it was the community in Wuhan, the university, and the city administrations and volunteers who cared for and supported African students.
“They were not discriminated because of their origins. There were many Africans who also lived in other parts of China as well during the spread of the various and not any sign of discrimination was reported,” said the ambassador.
According to an AFP tally, a video started circulating on social media that purports to show a Kenyan couple involved in a fist fight with a Chinese couple in Wuhan, was later confirmed to be false. The incident occurred in the Bronx, New York City, in front of an Asian restaurant.
Chanaka said the recent incident in Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong Province was an unfortunate development, but it is a “localized one, which does not reflect the overall situation of Africans in China.”
Assurances were given by both sides “to take appropriate measures that no such thing targeting Africans will happen and also agreed to jointly fight COVID-19,” he added.
“From what we know about the virus it affects all humanity across the race. We need to fight the pandemic together as fellow human beings. We need to act soberly and reasonably… There is no need to react emotionally and in panic mood,” said the ambassador.
The Ethiopian diplomat stated that China-Africa relation has shown progresses in political, economic, military, social and cultural aspects since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and BRI.
Responding to questions related to his impression on China’s measures in the fight against the virus, the envoy told the Global Times that he has personally witnessed the national effort waged by China and the national coordination from the central government to the grass-roots level.
The government, health workers, civilians, media, and other sectors of society have demonstrated to the world how to protect and control a national challenge, he noted.
“China has done its part in an unprecedented way. Its mobilization capability and the people’s loyalty to comply with the directives of the government were extraordinary.”
Chanaka stressed that it is the best lesson for Ethiopia and the rest of the world for them to learn from China’s experience and apply the knowledge to their situation.