Rabat – While it may make the headlines, China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy” is only one facet of Beijing’s outreach and foreign policy agenda, especially amid re-energized efforts to take off its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in a post-pandemic economy.
A Chinese State Council Press release describes the BRI as “a systematic project, which should be built jointly through consultation to meet the interests of all, and efforts should be made to integrate the development strategies of countries along the Belt and Road”, filling the gap between east and west.
While some Western observers have questioned China’s intention, saying the BRI is an expansionary initiative, many others, especially from the South, have greeted the project with optimism.
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A such an analysis, which Eurasia Review published on Friday, offered a new perspective on the Moroccan-Algerian divide and how China could possibly bridge it through the BRI.
In the article titled “China’s Chance to Bridge the Algeria-Morocco Gap”, the authors believe that “Beijing may have the power to bridge the gap and reorient the Western Mediterranean towards its Belt and Road Initiative.”
This may sound like an overly optimistic, if not naive, prediction. However, analysis of China’s investment in the two countries, and the East Asian country’s historic efforts to play the role of a diplomat, could mean the prediction is coming true.
Faced with the American story “America is back” and its self-imposed role as world police, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi presents China in a different light.
“What I mean is that China has always pursued an independent foreign policy of peace and is willing to conduct friendly cooperation with other countries on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence,” Wang said during a press conference in December 2020.
Besides “China’s original aspiration to contribute to the happiness of the Chinese people and the progress of mankind”, the country “also seeks to play a constructive role in the cause of peace and development in the world.”
Highlighting a long list of Chinese government and private sector investments in Morocco and Algeria, the authors of the article seem to come to the same conclusion as Wang.
“Beijing, in its new and advantageous strategic position between opponents, could promote transition proposals that would benefit all parties,” the analysis reads.
The author went on to say that “the time has come for China to facilitate constructive interaction between Rabat and Algiers. His diplomatic efforts could determine whether the trajectory of the Western Maghreb will be towards cooperation or conflict.
Changing roles in a post-pandemic world
China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy” only strengthens pragmatic and win-win efforts. The Chinese government has shown contempt for the term and maintains that it “does not seek any geopolitical objective or has any economic interest or consideration, and it has never attached any political conditions” to such initiatives. Yet many observers have suggested that the country’s motivation to expand its global political influence is a “sinister” a.
As the conversation around the idea of ”vaccine nationalism” swirled last May, Chinese President Xi Jinping proclaimed that China’s COVID-19 vaccines will become a “global public good.” Following such promises, China has yet to make a commitment to show the world that it can fulfill the role it has assumed and earn the trust of those it has offered to help.
COVID-19 has paved the way for new forms of diplomacy and offered new opportunities. In such a context, Beijing must exercise caution as it makes decisions to move forward in an increasingly globalized world.
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China’s ever-expanding high-tech sector has created a strong demand for phosphates and rare earth elements. Morocco has more than 70% of the world’s rock phosphate reserves, while Algeria has the world’s fourth largest stock. Beijing has also participated in the construction of the transport and logistics sectors of the two countries.
Beijing has contributed to the financing of the recently enlarged port of Tanger Med, which has become the largest port in the Mediterranean. Likewise, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation helped build the El Hamdania port in Algeria. An infrastructure corridor connecting sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean, through Algeria, can only contribute to the ethos and the functioning of the BRI.
Of course, closing the gap between Morocco and Algeria would be a monumental task. Yet, given how much the BRI can benefit from a unified Maghreb, this could be a remarkable cause to follow.