Has China’s Public Image in Africa been Affected by the COVID-19 or Not?

In early 2020, the COVID-19 first broke out in China and then spread across the world, and Africa is not an exempt. In the early March, the first case of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa surged in Nigeria. On September 1st, the number of COVID-19 cases reached about 1.25 million as death toll passes 30,000 in the fifty countries of Africa.

How do African countries perceive this epidemic which broke out in China in the first place? Will the fear of coronavirus transform into stigmatization towards specific regions? How do African countries understand China’s handling of the pandemic? How does COVID-19 affect African countries’ perceptions on the ongoing “The Belt and Road Initiative” projects?

To answer the questions above, the research team of China House spent three months to complete the report “China’s Image in African Countries along the ‘Belt and Road’ during COVID-19.

(This article only shows part of the report. If you want to read the full text, please open the link:https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQP-QyfgewSN4sfPjBhMz7rEpICA28qmd2VykhhNoheRC1ahT3EedlM3V1iufYB0IGOa0wMWVSPXaYJ/pub)

This study selected six African countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Zambia as target countries for the purpose of analyzing. In order to provide a comprehensive report, the study examined a large number of mainstream media reports related to China between January 1 and September 1, 2020, as the research subject. The study also includes interviews of relevant people from different classes in each country.

Analysis of China’s overall image in Africa

The study reveals that in the topic of “The Belt and Road Initiative,” China’s image consists of both positive and negative comments among six African countries amid pandemic.

China’s positive image in Africa includes:

  1. China’s effectiveness in preventing and controlling the epidemic
  2. China’s ongoing economic assistance to Africa and its debt relief measures during the epidemic
  3. China’s provision of medical aid to African countries during the epidemic
This article by The Star, a South African news corporation, reports on China’s medical assistance to South Africa during the COVID-19.

China’s so-called “negative image” includes:

  1. China’s inappropriate methods of coping with pandemic.
  2. China’s aid to Africa has neo-colonial overtones, which may threaten the sovereignty of African countries and breed local corruptions
  3. The negative impact on local communities by the behaviors of individual Chinese or Chinese enterprises in Africa.
Several Ghanaian media reported that Chinese fishing boats were fined by the local fisheries commission for illegal fishing. Photo source: Ghanaian Times

Analysis of Direct Reproduction of Foreign Media Reports on China by Mainstream Media in African Countries

This study also found that the local media, except Zambia local media, contained a sheer volume of China-related reprinted articles.

Nigerian Guardian reprints multiple AFP stories on Trump’s ban on Tiktok and WeChat  Photo source: AFP

Most of the reprinted articles are predominantly from Western media. The reprinted articles contain a variety of news and reports and have a mixture of perspectives compared to reports written by local media. However, it is indispensable to note that the reprinted articles intend to have negative comments towards Chinese affairs in terms of its ideology and political system.

China’s coping strategies

At the end of the report, the China House research team made the following recommendations for countermeasures.

Firstly, it is important to keep focus on the epidemic prevention, debt deferral, and post-epidemic economic reconstruction.

Secondly, it is essential to convey positive image of China to local African community, and the content should include China’s investment, construction, and economic assistance in Africa.

Third, it is necessary to strengthen the management of Chinese enterprises or individuals who conduct businesses in Africa. Chinese embassies and consulates in Africa need to help Chinese enterprises and individuals in Africa to understand the importance of the local rules, assisting Chinese enterprises and individuals to operate in full compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Fourth, it is indispensable to facilitate non-governmental communication.

The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway is a trunk railroad in Kenya, built by China with the help of Kenya per the National Railway Class I standard. Photo source: CGTN

Chinese people always consider Africa as the brother who “lifted China into the UN”, and more and more people start to recognize the growing ties between Africa and China through the “The Belt and Road Initiative.” China’s friendship with African countries is often valued in the national level, but the voices of African residents is woefully omitted.

The COVID-19 has brought challenges as well as new opportunities. Looking ahead, China and Africa need to strengthen exchanges, cooperation, and civil contacts in addition to maintaining beneficial bilateral official relations. In this way, African people are able to see a three-dimensional image of China which is in constant development and full of infinite vitality beyond the media propaganda.

Report Written by: Huang Hongxiang, Xu Yajie, Cheng Lyu, Wang Yuxi, Chen Yingru, Chen Cai, Wu Haiying, Chen Yiyun, Chen Zihan, Deng Jinhan, Huang Zhushu, Ji Chenxing, Jiang Tianze, He Yang’boya, Huang Hailin, Ni Jia’ning, Zhu Yifei, Liu Xinran, Li Jiaqi.

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