• By The Financial District


China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi concludes his tour of Africa this weekend without making a single concrete vaccine commitment to a continent hoping a benevolent Beijing will help inoculate its population out of the global coronavirus pandemic, Jenni Marsh said in an analysis for CNN on January 10, 2021, with contribution from Kristie Lou Stout.

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 fake. 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."

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.

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, trend for African leaders: Credit lines from China that once seemed almost free-flowing have been throttled in recent years, amid increasing criticism of reckless lending.

According to the China Africa Research Initiative, Chinese loans to Africa dropped from $29.4 billion in 2016 to $8.9 billion in 2018. Wang's visit also came on the back of the sharpest racial tensions between Africa and China in decades, after alleged coronavirus-related discrimination against

African nationals in the city of Guangzhou sparked widespread anger across the continent last April. An extraordinary video was subsequently posted on Twitter of the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria being scolded by a Nigerian politician over the mistreatment of Africans.