Health Silk Road Update 3

Make Sweden a workshop for cooperation, not a battlefield for geopolitics!

One of the priority goals of The Belt and Road Institute in Sweden (BRIX) is to enhance Sweden’s participation in international cooperation among all nations along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In Sweden, we are looking forward to making our country a meeting point for many nations to work together and combine their resources and innovative powers in a win-win manner. The BRIX does not believe in zero-sum games nor in geopolitics as a way of undermining other nations and taking advantage of their weaknesses. Every nation, no matter how large or small has an equal right to development and prosperity. At the same time, every nation should contribute to the benefit of the other, in accordance with the noble principles of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which ended the bloody Thirty-Years War, a religious war among European nations which had led to the demise of almost one third of the European population. The Peace of Westphalia became the basis of many of the principles of the United Nations Charter after WWII.

In light of the devastating COVID-19 Pandemic, which is sparing no nation on this planet, it is more important than ever that nations of different political, cultural and religious systems and beliefs put aside their differences and work together for the common goals of mankind.

The BRIX board of directors issued an open letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Mr. Kenneth Howery, in response to an op-ed he signed in the Swedish daily tabloid Expressen on April 2nd. In that letter he attacked China for failing to inform the rest of the world about the virus, thus causing massive suffering around the world. The Chinese ambassador to Sweden, Mr. Gui Congyou, responded in the same newspaper on April 9 to the accusations by Mr. Howery by providing a timeline of China’s reactions to the Corona outbreak and its cooperation with other nations and international organizations from the beginning of the detection of the COVID-19 virus.

This development prompted the BRIX members to react to bring this debate on our soil to a positive conclusion. We wrote that “Sweden should become a workshop for cooperation, not a battlefield for geopolitics”. The irony is that Chinese and American healthcare experts are working more actively together than ever before. It is politicians who have little appreciation of the heroic efforts made by the healthcare providers, industries, and researchers. See below for some examples!


The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank backs the Health Silk Road

The AIIB, which is one of the key financial institutions that emerged in the wake of Belt and Road Initiative and is based in Beijing with a capital of US$ 100 Billion, is intervening to back the infrastructure of public health sector of its members. Interestingly, it has emphasized the very important correlation between the availability of a strong infrastructure (transport, water and power, etc) and the ability to provide healthcare for the population when needed in any country. In a detailed study published by the AIIB in March and titled Impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Its Implications for Infrastructure Priorities, the AIIB researchers correctly point to the importance of infrastructure for providing a good level of healthcare for populations, urging to redefine the priorities for infrastructure development projects by governments. It also pledged to support such priorities financially.

It noted in a press release published on March 25, that “recognizing that countries with fragile infrastructure have less capacity to handle health crises, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is working to scale up infrastructure investment—including in public health, healthcare and information and communications technology (ICT)—to better serve members impacted by COVID-19.” The member states of the AIIB reached 100 members in 2019. AIIB President and Chair of the Board, Jin Liqun, said: “There has never been a greater need for a multilateral and truly global coordinated effort to ease the economic burden experienced by all.” He added: “We have a responsibility to our members who face tremendous pressure to maintain the health and safety of their citizens while managing the impact of an economic downturn. It is our duty to be flexible and responsive in a time of crisis so our members can continue investing in sanitation, healthcare and technology-enabled infrastructure.”

Jin emphasized that the AIIB “will work with members and partners to adjust to this new reality, providing scaled up and targeted investment in critical sustainable infrastructure to protect the people we serve and the generations that follow.”

The press release noted that the “AIIB will announce a number of public health infrastructure financing options for its members in the coming days and weeks, to help build up economic resilience and mitigate the impact of future health crises.”


AIIB: USD5 Billion COVID-19 Crisis Recovery Facility

On April 3, the AIIB announced its first initiative to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. An AIIB press release stated:

“The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is proposing to its Board of Directors to create a crisis recovery facility in response to urgent economic, financial and public health pressures and to support a quick recovery after the current crisis. A new Crisis Recovery Facility will offer an initial USD5 billion of financing to both public and private sector entities facing serious adverse impacts as a result of the pandemic. It is part of the coordinated international response to counter COVID 19 crisis, as per the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit.”

AIIB President, Jin Liqun, said: “The international community needs to come together to pool our resources to help the world navigate the current pandemic and economic upheaval. AIIB is committed to playing its full part.” According to the press release, the facility “could support emergency public health needs, such as health infrastructure for emergency preparedness and clients whose infrastructure investments are severely impacted by the pandemic.” In addition, it could provide the financing needed to preserve the productive capacity of other productive sectors, including manufacturing, that have been hit by COVID-19.


AIIB Emergency Loan to Support China’s Public Health Infrastructure

In response to China’s emergency financing needs for public health infrastructure to manage the spread of COVID-19, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) Board of Directors approved a loan US$ 355 million as “an adaptive way of upgrading the country’s sustainable public health infrastructure and providing emergency equipment and supplies”, according to a press release issued on April 7.

The project, to be supported by AIIB’s first emergency assistance loan, aims to strengthen the public health emergency response capacity in the Chinese municipalities of Beijing and Chongqing. The loan will support projects such as upgrading the two municipalities “respective Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enhancing the treatment capacity of medical institutions in dealing with epidemic emergencies and providing emergency equipment and supplies to frontline public health workers to help contain the outbreak of COVID-19.”

The press release stated: “AIIB’s response underscores the importance of building resilient public health infrastructures and maintaining robust systems for members to effectively mitigate risks to their populations associated with outbreaks of communicable disease.”


AIIB Commits USD385M for Improving Water Access in Uzbekistan

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) Board of Directors announced on April 9 that it “has approved a USD385-million loan to provide access to safely managed water and sanitation services and strengthen the operational performance of water utility in Uzbekistan’s Bukhara Region.”

According to the AIIB, “the Bukhara Region has been identified by the Government of Uzbekistan as a priority area in terms of developing water and sanitation infrastructure as well as tourism.” Uzbekistan has committed to increasing regional access to water supply (currently at 54 percent) and sewage services (currently at 34 percent) to 100 percent.

Expected to benefit 1.15 million residents, the Bukhara Region Water Supply and Sewerage Project will support priority investments in water supply infrastructure and sewage infrastructure. The investments will help reduce water-related diseases, lower coping costs (expenses and time savings), increase operational efficiency and enhance water service quality and quantity.


Chinese media respond to anti-China hype

In a response to all the media “hype” about China being too slow in revealing the nature of the coronavirus, Xinhua News Agency has published a day-by-day account of Chinese actions on the matter from late December until the present. This document can be found at this link!


China’s Ambassador: China and U.S. Must Cooperate against COVID-19

In a letter published in the New York Times on April 5, China’s ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said that this was no time for “finger-pointing,” but rather a time for “solidarity, collaboration and mutual support” in the fight against the coronavirus.

“China was hit hard by the pandemic not long ago, so its people can empathize with American’s suffering now,” Cui writes.

Cui pointed out that China had provided the United States with 1.5 million masks, 200,000 test kits, 180,000 gloves and many other medical supplies. “At a time when solidarity is essential, we need to keep cool heads and clearly say no to the folly of fanning racism and xenophobia, and to scapegoating other countries or races,” he writes.

“As the two biggest economies in the world, China and the United States need to lead international efforts in collaborative research into treatments and vaccines, and explore the sharing of pharmaceutical technologies among nations. We need to help countries with underdeveloped medical systems and contribute to better global health governance,” Cui writes.

“We must also enhance our coordination of macroeconomic policy to stabilize markets; ensure growth and peoples livelihoods; and keep the global industrial and supply chains open, stable and secure. This was the core message delivered by President Xi during the virtual Group of 20 summit on COVID-19 late last month. It is also an integral part of the notion that countries belong to a global community with a shared future.”


Wuhan Doctors Brief U.S. Counterparts on Methods and Useful Drugs

A number of doctors involved in the Wuhan epidemic containment attended a two-day conference on March 30-31 organized by the American College of Chest Physicians and the Chinese Association of Chest Physicians. Some 1,500 people participated in the video conference.

Two of the Chinese doctors, Dr. Bin Cao, from the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, and Zhan Qinyuan spearheaded the response in Wuhan during the outbreak, and are now leading clinical trials of key anti-viral drugs used to treat COVID patients in China. China has been engaged in important clinical trials involving medications including Remdesivir, Lopinavir/Ritonavir, Favipiravir, Rabavirin, Galidesivir, Hydroxychloroquine, Chloroquine, and Medrol, among others. The two most effective medications, they indicated, were Remdesivir and Lopinavir/Ritonavir, which showed better outcomes in a shorter time than the control groups.

Dr. Cao Bin strongly advised that controlling the virus required a coordinated effort from the top down. He expressed concern that the U.S. would have a hard time containing the outbreak if the efforts to contain COVID-19 are not coordinated.


China Ships 1,000 Ventilators to New York

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that China is facilitating the shipment of 1,000 ventilators to New York, Associated Press reported on April 5. Gov. Cuomo tweeted: “We finally got some good news today. The Chinese government helped facilitate a donation of 1,000 ventilators. I thank the Chinese government, Jack Ma, Joe Tsai, the Jack Ma Foundation, the Tsai Foundation and Consul General Huang.”

“This is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us,” Cuomo said, adding that the State of Oregon is also sending 140 ventilators to New York. Cuomo continues to search for ventilators closer to New York City, and has issued an order that forces even private hospitals in the state to redistribute ventilators to the hospitals most in need.

Former U.S. Officials Sign a Letter Calling for U.S.-China Cooperation on Coronavirus

An April 3 statement organized by Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and the 21st Century China Center at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, entitled “Saving Lives in America, China, and Around the World,” and signed by several dozen U.S. China scholars and former government officials, calls for U.S.-China cooperation in combatting coronavirus. “The logic for cooperation is compelling,” the letter says. “Recent steps taken in Washington and Beijing suggest that both governments appreciate the significance of this moment and are taking some initial steps together. The purpose of this statement is to encourage further steps in that direction and to show that there is broad bipartisan support for such cooperation. It is in that spirit that this statement is offered.”

But unlike a similar letter from 100 Chinese scholars, it maintains a firm stance in the “geopolitical” landscape. It compares the situation to the cooperation of the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, still implying that China is in the category of a “rival” or “adversary.” “It is true that the United States and China are increasingly in competition and have serious differences in interests and values. But America need not concede its interests or values, or condone China’s handling of the crisis, to cooperate on coronavirus….

“In time, in order to prevent or prepare for future outbreaks, there will be a need for a global review of the coronavirus pandemic: its origins, the conditions that allowed it to spread, the failure of the institutions tasked with response, and the potential fragility of medical supply chains so critical to the health and safety of billions. But for now, as the pandemic sweeps the globe, the focus should be on finding the resolve to work together to contain and defeat the virus at home and abroad. Millions of lives in both countries and around the world will depend on it,” the letter concludes.

Among the signers were Graham Allison, Jeffrey Bader, Charlene Barshefsky, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel and Jon Huntsman, to name a few.


OECD Expects Huge Reduction of GDP; G20 Must Rebuild Global Health System

Not widely reported is OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría’s statement presented at the March 26 G20 Videoconference Summit on COVID-19 pandemic, where he presented the stark reality of the economic consequences of the pandemic. A chart was presented that forecasts a tremendous reduction of Gross Domestic Product for the world’s leading economies, including a 30% reduction for Germany and 26% for the United Kingdom, Italy, and France; 25% for the U.S.; and slightly lower percentages for South Korea, Canada, Brazil and China, which would have an 18% reduction. The “tourism sector alone faces a decrease in output anywhere between 50% to 70%.”

Nonetheless, he said, this “is a cost that has to be paid today, in order to avoid much higher costs and even more serious consequences tomorrow.”

Gurría said that the only way forward for the G20 countries is “to massively ramp up the production of medical infrastructure, equipment, and supplies, and to ensure that affordable vaccines and treatments are widely and swiftly available.” He underscored, “Special attention must be dedicated to the most vulnerable in our societies, considering the high inequalities in many of our countries. We also have to make sure that the health systems in the world are properly staffed. Our success in this war, on the health and human dimensions, will not only reduce the pain to our families and societies, it will also define our capacity to keep the economy afloat.”

While calling for action on several fronts, including “people and workers,” large as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, and trade, he particularly focused on “developing and low-income countries” and called for a “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPIC)” to be put “‘on steroids.’”


G20 Preparing Coronavirus Rescue Package for Africa: Report

Led by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, a group of G20 leaders is reportedly preparing a European relief package to ameliorate the impact of the coronavirus crisis in Africa. It would include debt relief and financial aid. According to an article in Politico , Wednesday, April 1, “a comprehensive package supported by countries including France and Italy would incorporate recent demands from President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, who have called on the world’s most industrialized countries to support the continent through the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.” Both leaders have called for debt relief.

Macron and Abiy spoke with each other by phone in late March, after Abiy had made a public call for a $150 billion aid package from the G20 for Africa, which was to include a Jubilee debt-forgiveness for the poorest countries. In a statement released at that time, Ethiopia’s Nobel Prize winner originally proposed that interest payments on government loans “should be written off,” along with “part of the debt of low-income countries.” Abiy declared that the pandemic, “poses an existential threat to the economies of African countries,” adding, “Just as the virus knows no borders, our responses should also know no borders.”


Russia Makes the Case for Global Cooperation of Nations, End to Sanctions

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement April 4 in support of the UN General Assembly resolution that passed unanimously April 3, dubbed Global Solidarity To Fight the Coronavirus Disease 2019. TASS cited on April 4 the Russian Foreign Ministry as stating: “We call on countries to closely coordinate efforts in response to the new threat in order to minimize the loss of human life and global economic consequences. Based on the principle of solidarity, Russian continues to provide assistance in combating the coronavirus to the countries that need it the most.”

At the same time, the Foreign Ministry criticized unspecified countries’ unwillingness to lift sanctions amid the pandemic, as outrageous. “We regret that even in the face of a global health threat, they found it impossible to abandon politicized approaches,” the statement said. “We are confident that in the current health situation, attempts to politicize infection-related discussions will have a negative effect on global efforts to contain the pandemic.”


For further reading about the Health Silk Road, read our article “China Unleashes the Health Silk Road against the Corona Pandemic”!