NewsSouthern AfricaAfrica talking to Beijing: Zimbabwe


Posted on Monday, 27 February 2012 14:19

Africa talking to Beijing: Zimbabwe

By Marshall Van Valen

Tough governments are able to get the most out of the rise in emerging-market interest in Africa. Here is one example of countries trying to get beyond the 'win-win' rhetoric in engagements with their Chinese partners.

Heads of State Robert Mugabe (left) and Hu Jintao (right)/ PHOTO/ REUTERSOn the one hand, President Robert Mugabe boasts about China's unwavering support in the face of US anctions while US diplomats decry Beijing's unconditional support for dictators.

He claims that China provides vital support to the country's ailing economy, but Chinese support has tended to be more rhetorical than financial. 

On the other, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) views Chinese actors with the open-minded scepticism found elsewhere. 

The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government's 'Look East' policy launched in the mid-2000s was intended to fight against the country's isolation.

Chinese staterun banks have no trushed in with multibillion-dollar mines-for-infrastructure deals and small-scale Chinese traders have been met with some opposition from a government that gives the idea of indigenisation pride of place. 

""The less transparent elements are most divisive, such as the China International Fund"" 

China is Zimbabwe's second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade rising to more than $500mfrom January to October 2011.

In  December, the Parliamentary Budget Committee reported that Chinese companies had won the lion's share of the $553m in contracts signed by the government in recent months. 

China Development Bank and China Export-Import Bank financial deals have been slow to develop. China Exim Bank discussed a $3bn loan in exchange for access to platinum reserves in February 2011.

Tsvangirai had said that the government was in talks for a $950m credit line back in July 2009 and that was the last heard of credit lines until Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Deputy Prime Minister Wang Qishan discussed a $700mdeal for health and agriculture projects in March 2011. 

China's support for incumbents can look like favouritism rather than cool disinterest. In February 2010 the Chinese embassy in Harare hosted a birthday celebration for Mugabe, a first ever for Chinese diplomats.

Chinese companies sold weapons to the security forces that attacked civilians during the contested 2008 elections, violence that was not loudly condemned by Chinese officials. 

But Chinese investors have been wary of Zimbabwe's changing legislative framework and indigenisation drive.

Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasuku were first suggested that friendly nations like China would not be subject to the requirement to turn 51 per cent of company ownership over to black Zimbabwean citizens.

He awarded an indigenisation waiver to China's Tian Ze Tobacco Company in 2010. Now, Kasukuwere has explained that Chinese companies will not receive a blanket exemption.

In late December, Xiao Nan of the foreign ministry's Africa department encouraged Chinese businessmen to comply with all local legislation. 

The less transparent elements ofChina's engagement are the most divisive. 

The opaque China International Fund and China Sonangol networks – composed of companies founded by private Chinese businessmen and the Angolan parastatal oil company Sonangol – signed a series of mining, transport and construction deals valued at some $8bn in November 2009.

They have led to few developments on the ground. The MDC claims to have little or no knowledge of such deals, which are signed by Mugabe's allies.

Another such case is the involvement of the Anjin joint venture between the state-owned Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group and a nebulous group of Zimbabwe's high-ranking military leaders that operate in the Chiadzwa diamond mines. 

MDC finance minister Tendai Biti has said that diamond revenue has not been entering the treasury normally. Funds from the joint venture will repay a loan for a new $98m intelligence training school.

Biti called the loan "criminal" because it did not take into account the government's indebtedness,  development priorities and need for concessional finance.

The choice of the training school was also made without discussion. Pursuing short-termties with the current regime rather than pursuing deals that benefit the people could ultimately hurt China's long-term interests, especially if a new government arrives and starts investigating the deals of the past. 

This article was first published in the November edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, 
via our print subscription or our digital edition.

Also Read: 

 - Africa Talking to Beijing: South Africa

 - Africa Talking to Beijing: Ethiopia

 - Africa Talking to Beijing: West Africa

 - What will Africa look like in 2060?

 - How state capitalism helps the super rich

 - How do you say 'Good Morning Africa' in Chinese?

Last Updated on Monday, 27 February 2012 16:34

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