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Now, with negative sentiment towards China hardening in Western democracies due to trade wars and human rights issues, African allies — which have crucial voting rights at major international bodies — have arguably become an even more vital bloc for China to keep on side with its so-called vaccine diplomacy.

And while a cold chain vaccine air bridge from Shenzhen, in southern China, to Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, has been established, and manufacturing capabilities are being set up to make Chinese shots in Cairo, Wang’s trip made it no clearer when Africans can expect to receive a Chinese vaccine — or on what terms.

“The promises concerning vaccines in Africa have been really fake. There has been no timetable, only promises,” said W. Gyude Moore, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and former Liberian minister of public works. “Today, I am not aware of any African country that’s taking delivery of Chinese vaccines.”

The Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs did not reply to CNN’s requests for comment on Beijing’s plans to roll out vaccines in Africa, but state media has rejected claims that vaccines will be used as a “bargaining chip to expand political influence.”

A power house and a continent in need

Wang’s whistle-stop tour of Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Tanzania and the Seychelles continued a three-decade tradition of China’s top diplomat making his first international trip each year to Africa.

That tradition signals Africa’s diplomatic importance to China, with stops in places like the Seychelles, a sparsely populated archipelago, proving no nation is insignificant to Beijing, and serves to embarrass Western countries which typically neglect the continent but often view it as within their natural orbit of influence.

The Africa-first protocol was established in 1991, on a basis of mutual underdog brotherhood, but China has fundamentally changed since then. So much so that Wang’s claims, in a video interview ahead of his trip, that China and Africa had a “shared identity of the developing world,” which had both suffered “weal and woe,” didn’t tally with the two regions’ recent history — and very different experiences of the pandemic.
In 2020, as the world’s second-largest economy, China announced it ended abject poverty, successfully contained a virus that has floored the globe’s biggest superpower, the United States, and developed some of the first coronavirus vaccines.

Across Africa, countries didn’t report the huge caseloads seen in India or the United States — as of Thursday, the continent had reported fewer than 70,000 deaths, compared to the 150,000 in India and more than twice that in the US.

The nations Wang visited have particularly low reported numbers, potentially hampered by low testing. But they felt the economic impacts of the virus deeply. Many tumbled into recession and faced a mounting debt crisis, which saw Zambia become the first African nation to default on its debt in a decade. About a quarter of Zambia’s $12 billion external debt was owed to China, which refused to provide debt relief.
Compounding the debt issue is another potentially worrying, and somewhat ironic, trend for African leaders: credit lines from China that once seemed almost free-flowing have been throttled in recent years, amid increasing criticism of reckless lending. According to the China Africa Research Initiative, Chinese loans to Africa dropped from $29.4 billion in 2016 to $8.9 billion in 2018.
Wang’s visit also came on the back of the sharpest racial tensions between Africa and China in decades, after alleged coronavirus-related discrimination against African nationals in the city of Guangzhou sparked widespread anger across the continent last April. An extraordinary video was subsequently posted on Twitter of the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria being scolded by a Nigerian politician over the mistreatment of Africans.

Yet there was little chance of Wang being challenged on any of these points.

In Nigeria, Wang held closed-door meetings and signed a vague agreement to establish an intergovernmental committee. In the DRC, he postponed the repayment of interest-free loans from China that matured at the end of 2020, although it was not clear what the value of these were. While in Tanzania, China and local officials launched a vaccine training college, in Botswana Wang committed to deepening bilateral ties, and in the Seychelles he discussed importing more fish from the nation devastated by a collapse in tourism.
Moore, the former Liberian minister, said African countries needed to exercise more agency in the procurement of vaccines, taking the charge on placing orders. If countries are expecting the vaccines to be delivered for free, either directly from China or through the World Health Organization’s COVAX scheme to provide vaccines to those in the greatest need, which Beijing is a signatory to, they will have “no leverage” in bargaining over the delivery timetable, he said.
The COVAX scheme has only pledged to work to secure enough doses to protect 20% of Africa’s population in the initial phase, meaning nations will have to look at alternative options, such as Russia’s Sputnik vaccine.
The director of African Centers for Disease Control (CDC), John Nkengasong, predicts the continent will need 1.5 billion doses of vaccine to inoculate 60% of the population — the level needed to achieve herd immunity. Procuring the vaccines and establishing delivery systems could cost up to $10 billion, according to the Africa CDC.

A health silk and road

On a bright blue-sky day last December, senior African diplomats, Chinese construction workers and officials, wearing masks, gathered to celebrate breaking ground on a grand new building in the Ethiopian capital.

The headquarters of Africa CDC, an organization conceived in the wake of the 2014 Ebola crisis, will be at the heart of the continent’s healthcare planning in coming years — and has been subject to intense political wrangling between the US and China.

Ethiopian Health Minister Lia Tadesse and Liu Yuxi, head of the Chinese Mission to the African Union, and other guests attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the China-aided Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in December 2020.

Launched in 2017, the organization originally received funding from the US, China, and the World Bank, among other donors, with Washington taking a leading role, including by paying the African CDC director’s salary in its early years.

But when China announced in 2018 that it would build the $80 million CDC headquarters in Addis Ababa, Washington was outraged. “The Chinese want to build the CDC to eventually steal the data from all the other centers,” an unnamed Trump administration official told the Financial Times in February. “If the Chinese build the headquarters, the US will have nothing to do with Africa CDC.” Recent reports that the Chinese hacked and bugged the African Union building they also built in Addis Ababa give the US claims more credence.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not reply to CNN’s questions on the matter of spying on government buildings it has constructed in Africa.

A rendering of the African CDC headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The Chinese have forged ahead with the plan, effectively ousting major US influence on the body, and signaling how important it is to Beijing to be front and center of what it calls the Health Silk Road — essentially, the export of its medical and scientific expertise globally.

Throughout the pandemic, China has sent doctors to Italy, medical equipment to the Middle East, and has conducted vaccine trials in South America, giving countries such as Brazil early doses of those resources. Priority access to vaccines has also been promised to countries in Southeast Asia, which it has ties with along its Belt and Road project. Early in the crisis, China sent 148 medical workers to 11 African countries, according to state media.
In October, 50 African diplomats visited a Sinopharm vaccine factory and were told by the company’s chairman that “after the Covid-19 vaccine is developed and put into use, it will take the lead in benefiting African countries.”

A friend indeed

African nations are not totally without leverage when it comes to their relationships with Beijing.

While the pandemic has raged, so has China’s long-running trade war with the US — as well as a new one with Australia. It has also gotten into diplomatic disputes with the United Kingdom and Canada, which have condemned Beijing’s violation of democratic rights in Hong Kong.

That has made African countries increasingly important diplomatic allies who can be expected to vote in China’s favor at international forums, and help Chinese candidates get elected at United Nations bodies. When the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General was elected in 2019, for example, it was votes from Africa and South America, where China is also heavily invested, that helped a Chinese candidate win the seat for the first time.

“For international legitimacy, support is key in this region. With Africa, you have 54 votes in any international forum. That’s a huge bloc,” says Moore.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on September 3, 2018, at the Forum of China and Africa Cooperation.

African countries typically negotiate with China as individual units, presenting a David and Goliath dynamic. This year, however, African heads of state are scheduled to meet with Beijing’s top brass in Senegal at the triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), usually attended by the Chinese President. Should the event go ahead in person, there could be an opportunity for countries to come together to press Beijing to clarify a timeline on its delivery of vaccines to the continent.

A date for the event has not yet been set.

Over the past two decades, this forum has traditionally been a showcase for headline pledges of Chinese investment in the continent, going from $5 billion in 2006 to $60 billion in 2015 and 2018.

This year is likely to be the first in which Beijing will announce a smaller investment than at the previous FOCAC. In the absence of that monetary commitment, vaccines are likely to be the most pressing issue.

“African countries are so desperately in need of a vaccine, not because of the health implications, but because of the economic implications,” said Moore. “We’ll soon be living in a two-tier world, where Western countries will be opening the door after vaccinating their populations and developing countries, especially in Africa, will lack access to the rest of the world.”

Yet there is incentive for China to help African countries, says Yanzhoung Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations: “They want to improve China’s image. Secondly, they want to expand China’s market share of the Chinese vaccines. Third, they want to use vaccines as a strategic tool, especially in countries where China has strategic interest.”

Tellingly, Wang chose to wrap up his tour in the Seychelles, which this weekend will be one of the first African nations to begin inoculating its population. The country has received a donation of 50,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine — but not from China. Instead, they were donated by the United Arab Emirates, which has commercial interests in the Seychelles, and procured the vaccines by conducting clinical trials for the Chinese pharma giant.

While it is natural that China would want to vaccinate its most vulnerable before supplying other nations with resources, African leaders must be wondering what Xi means when he says African inoculations are a “priority.”

According to analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit, coronavirus vaccines are unlikely to be available in most of sub-Saharan Africa until April 2022, at the earliest.

If the vaccines aren’t forthcoming, it will be hard for China to continue peddling the narrative that it shares “weal and woe” with its African brothers when those on the continent remain exposed to the virus, and thus trapped within their own borders, as millions in China attempt to put the pandemic in the past.



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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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