New China-Africa innovation and cooperation center shows Wuhan is back
In the year 2020 Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei Province has been in the international limelight for not so good news. This month international experts under the World Health Organization (WHO) have been on a mission to establish the alleged origin of the coronavirus in the city.
Contrary to conspiracy theories propagated mainly by former U.S. President Donald Trump, the WHO team on February 9 dismissed the theory as “extremely unlikely.” This gave the city a clean bill of health to continue with its return to normalcy at full throttle. Further, the experts said that more work was needed to identify the source of the virus, and proposed that the net be cast wider to South East Asia.
Indeed, the recent launch of the China-Africa innovation and cooperation center in Wuhan acts as a final confirmation that Wuhan has returned to its winning ways. According to official press communication, the center will build one online and one offline platform to promote China-Africa scientific and technological innovation and cooperation, investment in production upgrading, and exchanges of young talents between China and Africa.
The partnership will include establishment of sub-centers for scientific research and international technology transfers, and scientific and technological cooperation projects in areas of mutual concern. As developing countries, there is much the two partners can learn from each other. The significance of this joint project cannot be overemphasized. Africa needs a lot of capacity building in order to reach global standards in industry, science and technology. This inadequacy has been the bane in Africa’s quest for economic development as the continent is unable to fully contribute in the global supply chains.
Significantly, the center is expected to serve the needs of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which will contribute in achieving a shared future between China and Africa. The significance and urgency of the BRI has been made evident by COVID-19. However, the pandemic has been a silver lining in exposing the gaps that need to be filled in order to make the project more resilient in the face of future adversity.
According to latest statistics from the World Economic Forum, Africa today accounts for around 17 per cent of the world’s population, but only about three per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. Such a massive discrepancy offers both challenges and opportunities for China and Africa, particularly in the ongoing drive to digitization through information and communication technologies. Global management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that there is US dollars 5.6 trillion in African business opportunities by 2025.
But that is just half of Wuhan’s unfolding story. Before gaining the popular COVID-19 tag, the city was a thriving industrial and technological metropolis known for major industries including optical-electronics, automobile, iron and steel manufacturing, with growth in the pharmaceutical sector, biotech and environmental protection.
While news of the new center is huge, it builds on several other initiatives in these two sectors between the two partners, both at public and commercial enterprise levels, and many other bilateral partnerships. For instance, in May 2019, Huawei and the African Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding to consolidate their collaboration and establish effective cooperation in the Information, Communication and Technology sector focusing on broadband, Internet of Things, cloud computing, 5G and artificial intelligence.
In October, 2020 the city of more than 11 million people declared victory by holding an exhibition on fighting COVID-19. Held in what was a temporary hospital during the crisis, it showcased the experience of frontline workers' and behind-the-scenes work that went into fighting the pandemic. This event could be held every year as a reminder of how Wuhan overcame the challenge, and act as a best practice in preparedness and management of future pandemics.
Since China contained the pandemic, the city has gradually redeemed its image and reclaiming its glory. Even at the peak of the pandemic, the world was treated to images of thousands of party-goers attending concerts in stadia and beaches, which was testament to the fact that it was getting back to its winning ways faster than expected.
According to Prologis, a company that operates logistics and distribution facilities in Wuhan, the city is also home to renowned universities and other institutions of higher learning, development zones and new business incubators, and is ranked third in the country in science and technology. Its global credentials are established by the fact that it is home to about 6,000 enterprises from more than 80 countries.
Like the legendary phoenix, China’s comeback kid has risen from its ashes and is daring to fly again like an eagle. The city represents the future, one that will be brave, bold and resilient amid the coming challenges.