ZIMBABWE and China may have signed a number of infrastructural deals between August last year when President Robert Mugabe visited the Asian country and this week when President Xi Jinping came to Harare, but Chinese officials say most agreements may be fruitless if Zimbabwe does not introduce far-reaching political, social and economic reforms, including leadership renewal.
Owen Gagare/Elias Mambo
Chinese officials who accompanied, the no-nonsense Xi on his two-day state visit ahead of his four-day visit to South Africa where he will co-chair a two-day China-Africa Co-operation Summit in Johannesburg starting today, say Xi is worried by the lack of political will to effect progressive reforms in several African countries, including Zimbabwe.
Chinese Foreign Affairs minister Wang Yi said this week Xi will propose “new thoughts, new policies and new ideas” for consolidating ties with Africa.
Xi, who has been in power since 2013, is a swashbuckling corruption-buster, who has lived to his promise of taking the fight against corruption to both “tigers and flies” unlike his Zimbabwean counterpart, Mugabe, who has been paying lip service to the fight against the scourge.
Although China prefers not to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries and shies away from governance and human rights issues, sources say Xi and his officials highlighted to Zimbabwean officials the reforms China was constantly making to grow its economy.
Xi and Chinese officials emphasised the need for economic reforms to ensure clarity on investment laws, improving the ease of doing business, fighting corruption, introducing investment friendly laws, ensuring the country’s credit ratings improve as well as reducing the country’s sovereign, political and economic risks.
“These issues came up within Mugabe and Xi’s framework of discussions. It’s not only Zimbabwe that China is worried about. One of his concerns is that African countries should put in place suitable and clear policies to attract
investment,” said an official.
A Chinese official said his country believes Zimbabwe will not make much economic progress unless it implements reforms aimed at attracting investment and ensures there is a stable business environment.
The clarity, Sino officials say, should also be on the political field as is the case in China where there is a once-in-a-decade leadership renewal.
The same message was delivered to Zanu PF chairpersons when they visited China for ideological and mass mobilisation training from the Communist Party of China (CPC) ahead of the 2013 elections.
Chinese officials told them Zanu PF should embrace change or die. The visit came at a time when CPC, which has been ruling since the end of the civil war in 1949, was preparing for leadership change and power transfer.
Former Chinese president Hu Jintao handed over power to Xi in 2013 after Xi took over the leadership of CPC at the party’s congress in 2012.
By contrast Mugabe (91) has been at the helm of Zanu PF since 1977 and has also ruled the country since Independence in 1980.
When Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited China in July this year, the Chinese mandarins were also very open and told him about the need to have leadership renewal and to fight corruption, among other things.
They raised fears about Mugabe’s age, Zimbabwe’s investment climate and ease of doing business, the country’s relations with Western countries, government’s failure to tackle corruption and bureaucratic red tape, among other thorny issues.
Since Mao Zedong’s disastrous land reform programme and his Great Leap Forward before his death in 1976, China has been rapidly changing. From 1978, China, with the late Deng Xiaoping in charge, gradually pursued market economy reforms, creating an investment-and-export-led economy which has now become the second largest in the world. The key to China’s success has been vision, leadership renewal and reform, as well as investor-friendly policies and property rights.
Xi’s visit was hailed by Zimbabwe’s political leadership with senior government officials saying the deals signed by the two countries will be a major boost to the government’s economic blue-print, ZimAsset, which many analysts have labelled a pie in the sky.
The Chinese leader received a hero’s welcome as thousands of Zanu PF supporters and Chinese nationals residing in Zimbabwe lined the streets to welcome him.
Security was also beefed up as airforce helicopters hovered in the air escorting Xi to the Rainbow Towers.
State security agents forced the hotel management to evict clients, including guests who were at the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa.
Hotel staff assisted guests looking for accommodation at other hotels and lodges in the city while some guests were accommodated in private homes with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
Some guests were moved to Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel, a development which resulted in Rainbow Towers chartering an Air Zimbabwe plane to transport guests to and from Bulawayo.
Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who has been living in a presidential suite at the hotel since his appointment in 2014, was moved to the diplomatic suit to accommodate Xi and his delegation.
During his stay, Mugabe and Xi signed several agreements, including on aviation co-operation and construction of a national pharmaceutical warehouse.
Some of the deals signed were follow-ups to agreements signed during Mugabe’s visit to China last year, while others had to do with projects which were already in the pipeline.
Mugabe and Xi witnessed the signing of deals for the expansion of Hwange Thermal Power Station, implementation of TelOne’s fibre optic project, exploitation of coal and methane gas as well as the establishment of a 600-megawatt thermal power station in Gwayi whose memorandums of understanding were signed last year. The two leaders presided over the signing of private sector deals, including one involving the Zimbabwe’s French-backed PER Lusulu Power which reached an agreement with China State Construction Engineering Corp Ltd to set up a US$1,1 billion coal-fired power station in Binga next year. The projects, which will commence in April 2016, with the 600MW plant being the first phase of a 2 000MW project.
In July, Stewart Perry, chairman of PER Lusulu Power, said Chinese financial institutions had agreed to fund the US$1,1 billion power plant in Zimbabwe, subject to the company signing a power purchase agreement with the state energy regulator.
Zimbabwe’s largest coal producer by throughput, Makomo, has also undertaken to build a US$1,5 billion, 600MW thermal power plant in Hwange with funding from the Chinese.