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Nation's humanitarian response in Africa exemplary

By Robert Kagiri | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-09-22 09:02

Activities are in line with China's soft-power projection, commensurate with its growing status as a global leader

An analysis of China's aid and relief support to countries struggling after serious natural disasters reveals it as a formidable emerging actor in the humanitarian space - particularly in South-South assistance.

This is in sharp contrast to the traditional discourse that set up the "North" as the giver and the "South" as the receiver of humanitarian assistance. China's emergence in the humanitarian space has disrupted established Western norms and standards that have historically characterized the nature and actors prevalent in humanitarian activities.

While this has not been met with unmitigated acceptance by the more established humanitarian actors, China's response to Africa's natural disasters is unabated, and there is no doubt that it will eventually emerge as the continent's most significant humanitarian partner.

This is in line with China's soft-power projection, aligned and commensurate with its growing status and emergence as the world's second-largest economy after the United States.

Nation's humanitarian response in Africa exemplary

During the United Nations 67th General Assembly in 2012, member states were encouraged to have dialogue among themselves and with UN agencies to bolster the emergency response system as a means of confronting the evolving nature of humanitarian crises. During that session, China came out strongly, calling on the international community "to take immediate action and foster close cooperation to respond to increasingly grave humanitarian situations".

In this respect, it further "firmly" supported "concrete steps to strengthen capacity-building in the humanitarian and development field, including transferring technology and expertise to developing countries and bolstering infrastructure in disaster-affected countries".

The world's most populous countries are themselves the biggest victims of humanitarian crises. Between 2002 and 2011, India and China alone accounted for more close to 80 percent of the people affected by natural disasters. As a result, as a nation that considers itself to be a part of the developing country community, and itself prone to natural disasters, China places a premium on international cooperation in the humanitarian field.

This partly explains why China is increasingly participating in bilateral and multilateral humanitarian relief operations and sharing its experience and technology to cope with natural disasters with other developing countries around the world. Examples abound such as China giving food aid to Chad and other countries in the Sahel region, and humanitarian aid to Cuba and Syria, among others.

In terms of peacekeeping, China is also playing a critical role under UN auspices as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan.

A larger role in peacekeeping, security and humanitarian intervention is envisioned in the future, particularly as a result of the fact that China's first overseas military base - in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, which was opened in August 2017 - allows the presence of up to 10,000 soldiers in the country until 2026 to support peacekeeping missions. It is expected to also boost maritime security in the area, particularly against pirates and terrorists along the troublesome Somali coastline, together with Japan, the United States, France and Italy, which also have bases in Djibouti.

With the renewed emphasis on "value for money" and "results", information is vital for making the case for aid - analyses that go beyond international exposure for the Chinese enterprises that implement humanitarian projects. Information provides more arguments for a balanced win-win scenario, as advocated by the Chinese government.

An overarching consideration is that any attempt to further engage the Chinese in continuing in this vein of humanitarian activity would be to frame humanitarian actions in terms of how they fit with the existing discourse and wide scope of South-South cooperation.

This is especially needed, because China's soft power projection through humanitarian diplomacy in Africa is inextricably tied to its other globalization initiatives and affiliations, such as the Belt and Road Initiative with its 21st century maritime Silk Road component and the country's ardent commitment to the BRICS South-South group of emerging economies.

Countries receiving aid also have a role to play in ensuring that more comprehensive, timely and comparable information about Chinese donors' activities and plans is available as needed or requested in the spirit of transparency and improving effectiveness. This includes joint risk reduction and development programs with aid-givers and a greater ability to afford the investments needed to build more disaster-resilient communities.

All in all, in light of China's increasing influence in Africa in the past few years, there is no doubt that in due course the country will occupy the largest humanitarian space in Africa - commensurate with its emerging status as a global leader and its current position as the continent's biggest and most important trading partner.

The author is director with the Centre for Strategy and Policy Management Africa Policy Institute, Nairobi, Kenya. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily European Weekly 09/22/2017 page9)

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