Rabat – Though it may be dominating headlines, so-called Chinese “vaccine diplomacy” is only one facet of Beijing’s outreach program and foreign policy, especially amidst reinvigorated efforts to get its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to take-off in a post-pandemic economy.
A Chinese State Council press release describes the BRI as “a systematic project, which should be jointly built through consultation to meet the interests of all, and efforts should be made to integrate the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road,” bridging the gap between the East and the West.
While some Western observers have questioned China’s intent, claiming that the BRI is an expansionist initiative, many others, especially from the global South, have welcomed the project in optimistic spirits.
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One such analysis, which Eurasia Review published on Friday, has presented a new angle 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 Divide,” the authors believe that “Beijing may have the power to bridge the divide and reorient the Western Mediterranean toward its Belt and Road Initiative.”
It might seem like an overly optimistic, if not a naive, prediction. However, the analysis of China’s investment in the two countries, and the East Asian country’s historical efforts to play the role of a diplomat, could mean that prediction comes true.
In the face of the US’ “America is back” narrative and its self-imposed role of world police, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi presents China in a different light.
“What I want to say is that China has always pursued an independent foreign policy of peace and is willing to conduct friendly cooperation with other countries based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” Wang noted at a press conference in December 2020.
Besides China’s “original aspiration of contributing to the happiness of the Chinese people and the progress of humanity,” the country also “seeks to play a constructive role in the cause of world peace and development.”
Highlighting a long list of investments from the Chinese government and the private sector in both Morocco and Algeria, the authors of the paper seem to reach the same conclusion as Wang.
“Beijing, in its new and advantageous strategic position between the disputants, could promote bridging proposals that would benefit all sides,” read the analysis.
The author continued by saying that “now is the time for China to facilitate constructive interaction between Rabat and Algiers. Its diplomatic efforts could determine whether the Western Maghreb’s trajectory will be toward cooperation or conflict.”
Shifting roles in a post-pandemic world
China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy” only further cements the pragmatic, win-win efforts. The Chinese government has shown disdain for the term and maintains that it “does not seek any geopolitical goals or have any economic interests or considerations, and it has never attached any political strings” to such initiatives. Yet, many observers have implied that the country’s motivation to broaden its global political influence is a “sinister” one.
As the conversation around the idea of “vaccine nationalism” swirled last May, Chinese President Xi Jinping proclaimed that Chinese COVID-19 vaccines would become a “global public good.” Following such promises, China has yet to commit, to show the world that it can fulfill the role it has taken on and win the trust of those it has offered to aid.
COVID-19 has set the stage for new forms of diplomacy and provided new opportunities. In such a context, Beijing must tread carefully as it makes decisions moving forward in an increasingly globalized world.
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China’s ever-expanding hi-tech sector has set a strong demand for phosphates and rare earth elements. Morocco boasts over 70% of the world’s phosphate rock reserves, while Algeria has the world’s fourth-largest stock. Beijing has also been involved in building the transportation and logistics sectors of the two countries.
Beijing helped finance the recently-expanded Port of Tanger Med, which became the largest port in the Mediterranean. In a similar fashion, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation aided in the construction of Algeria’s El Hamdania Port. An infrastructure corridor connecting sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterraneanr, through Algeria, can only contribute to the ethos and function of the BRI.
Certainly, closing the rift between Morocco and Algeria would be a monumental task. Yet, seeing how much the BRI stands to benefit from a unified Maghreb, it could be a noteworthy cause to follow.