China will step up public health projects in belt and road countries in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday.
Wang said global efforts in containing the pandemic should be coordinated and promised to develop a ‘healthy silk road’.
“China will actively expand international cooperation on public health, and establish pandemic control mechanisms with more nations,” he told a press conference at the annual parliamentary meetings known as the “two sessions”.
“There will be more such cooperation along the belt and road”.
The Belt and Road Initiative – also known as the modern-day Silk Road – is a trade and infrastructure push linking Asia, Europe and Africa initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
It mainly focuses on public infrastructure projects, but there have been calls for greater medical cooperation as the disease spread around the globe.
Some flagship projects have been delayed because of shortages of workers and raw material after governments around the world imposed travel restrictions and stringent border controls to contain the disease.
One project affected is a US$6 billion high-speed rail line linking Jakarta with Bandung on the Indonesian island of Java after the pandemic delayed imports of material from China.
China’s foreign labour service sent 39,000 workers abroad in January and February, 29,000 fewer compared with the same period last year, according to the commerce ministry.
At the end of February, the number of labourers overseas stood at 778,000 – down 188,000 from a year earlier.
But Wang said Covid-19 would not affect commitments to promote the belt and road, arguing that one project – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – had played a key role by providing a third of Pakistan’s electricity, while freight trains between China and Europe had delivered 8,000 tonnes of medical supplies.
“The potential of the belt and road comes from constantly opening up new areas of cooperation. After the epidemic, the desire of countries to develop the economy and protect people's livelihoods will be stronger, and the demand for cooperation in the field of public health will also increase significantly,” he said.
“China will work with the countries along the route to vigorously promote the construction of the ‘healthy silk road’.”
Wang also said China will do more to help African countries handle the pandemic, push for the resumption of joint projects that have been delayed by the outbreak and consider debt relief measures.
“We will also actively promote the implementation of the G20 debt relief initiative to reduce the burden of African countries, and will consider providing special support to African countries in particular difficulties,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously accused China of imposing “enormous amounts of debt” on African countries, while the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has called on China to cancel some debts for Africa.
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