China cherishes her strategic partnership with Nigeria, writes Zhou Pingjian
Mr Echar Christopher Sunday, 43, has been living in Guangdong province as a businessman for a decade. In March, he applied to become a volunteer, after local authorities called on residents, including foreigners, to help with the prevention and control of the COVID-19 pandemic. He lives in Zhanjiang, a city 450 kilometers away from Guangzhou, the provincial capital. After his wife was approved as a volunteer, she helped Echar submit his application to the local foreign affairs authority. “My Chinese wife helped me a lot to become a volunteer,” he said.
Zhanjiang has more than 1,900 foreign residents. Echar, among the first group of 46 volunteers involved in foreign affairs management in the city during the pandemic, said the volunteers can communicate in English, Japanese, Korean, French and Spanish. “The life here is easy, nice, less traffic and peaceful,” he said, adding that volunteering was a way to help contribute to building a cross-cultural society. In Zhanjiang, Echar exports Chinese goods including daily necessities and electrical products to Africa. He and his wife, who married in 2009, have two sons. “Zhanjiang is more like my second home. I am grateful that I had a chance to do something for the city,” he said.
After days of online and offline training, Echar was given the job of raising awareness of ways to control COVID-19, including distributing brochures at the Zhanjiang airport and helping to take the temperature of passengers arriving in the city. “Some foreigners did not realize the importance of taking a nucleic acid test for the virus,” he said. “In the fight against the disease, we should work together, no matter where we are from.”
Echar and his wife visited local communities, helping people from African countries to be more aware of regulations, policies and measures taken by the health authorities during the pandemic. “I am grateful to be trusted by African brothers and sisters. They open up about their life here and challenges. And I hope I’ll be of help to them,” he said. “More communication would help foreigners know more about Chinese culture. Moreover, it would help us to be more aware of prevention and control of the disease.”
On April 27, Echar wrote a letter to the city’s foreign affairs authority in appreciation for being given a chance to volunteer in the fight against COVID-19. And, local officials invited Echar, his family and 35 foreign teachers and students on a tour of some scenic spots in Zhanjiang during the May Day holiday to show their appreciation for their contributions, according to China Daily.
I had the privilege to receive a copy of Echar’s letter on April 28. A hand-written one, emanating understanding, solidarity and cooperation. I wish one day I could have the honour and pleasure to meet Echar, his Chinese wife and two sons, in Nigeria or in China. The number of families like Echar’s in Guangdong are in hundreds, I know. And I know there are many more excellent Nigerian goodwill ambassadors like Echar in China.
I would be remiss if I here don’t acknowledge Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda. He finally returned to Beijing on April 8, after having spent 14 days in quarantine in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi province which is 500 kilometers away from Beijing. At that time, the international flight to Beijing he was onboard like many others were required to divert to other cities for landing. All the inconveniences for an ambassador during 14-day quarantine outside Beijing could be imagined. “We have to abide by regulations for everyone’s sake,” the Nigerian Ambassador to China assured his hosts in plain words. Senior officials saw him off at the railway station to express their sincere appreciation and gratitude. I reached Ambassador Jidda for that, thanking him from the bottom of my heart.
As one of the countries hit by the first wave in the pandemic, China was the first to bring COVID-10 under control. There must be something worth looking at. China has taken the most comprehensive, stringent and thorough measures to fight the virus. It works, albeit at huge cost. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and then the epicenter of the epidemic, ended the lockdown on April 8 after being closed for 76 days from January 23. On April 26, Wuhan city had no remaining cases in hospital. On May 2, Hubei province lowered its public health emergency response level. On May 6, about 57,800 students in their final year from 121 high and vocational schools returned to campus. Now Wuhan is working hard on prevention and control on a regular basis and is promoting work and school resumption to let the society return to normal as soon as possible. Remarkable achievement, indeed.
During the lockdown however, the city’s public transport operations were totally suspended and all contacts between the epicenter and the rest of the country were blocked off. Everyone in Wuhan, Chinese or foreigner, in response to the government’s call, staying indoors and sacrificing normal lives in order to contain the spread of the virus, have borne the biggest burden and paid the biggest price. Of more than 3,000 African students in Hubei province and the city of Wuhan at the most difficult time, only one was infected and then quickly cured. The rest have all been safe and sound. 79 Nigerians (65 adults and 14 dependants), including 50 students, were then in Wuhan. No one got infected and I heard no complaints from them. Their full cooperation on the implementation of the most stringent measures to fight COVID-19 outbreak is highly appreciated. As one Nigerian student said, “We are foreigners, not strangers.” We are deeply touched by their understanding, solidarity and cooperation.
What happened in Guangdong recently is a similar story like Wuhan, in essence. All the measures taken there aim to fight against the COVID-19, not against any Nigerian, any African, or any foreign national. Between April 5 and 23, altogether 138,700 residents in Guangzhou, including 5503 African nationals (3.97%), have been tested. Among them, 185 tested positive with 164 (88.5%) asymptomatic cases. Their understanding, cooperation and sacrifice has made every resident there safer. Since April 12, the Foreign Affairs Office of Guangzhou has been daily briefing Nigeria’s Consulate-General by note on the numbers of confirmed cases, test result positive cases, and close contacts, as far as Nigerian nationals are concerned.
As for the issues raised regarding the situation of Nigerians in Guangdong involved in local outbreak response, the Guangdong authorities attach great importance to Nigeria’s concerns and work promptly to improve their working method. As far as I know, there is not a single complaint case outstanding from Nigerians in Guangdong at the moment. As of May 7, altogether 26 complaints were registered and resolved immediately. I’ve reviewed the 26 specific cases one by one. It is my assessment that all of them were caused by a lack of communication or misunderstanding. We thank all Nigerian brothers and sisters in China for bearing with us in such a trying time no one ever expected or wanted.
All foreign nationals are treated equally in China. We reject any differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination. Nothing whatsoever is changed in China’s policy of friendship towards Africa. China cherishes her strategic partnership with Nigeria.
Dr Pingjian is Ambassador of China to Nigeria