Candid Comment: Wily Chinese see opportunity in Zim malaise

The Chinese clearly understand this phenomenon. Judging from their heavy presence at last week’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe is an opportunity they definitely do not want to miss. Of course, the majority of people criticised the fair, slagging it for having deteriorated into a small and medium sized enterprise event, as if to say that in itself is a bad thing. Leading emerging economies like Taiwan are SME-driven.

Frankly speaking, the majority rarely get it right, especially when it comes to seeing business opportunities. This is the very reason why the wealthy rarely comprise more than five percent of any population. The question should be, what are the Chinese seeing that we, the majority have not seen in Zimbabwe?

These people are certainly no fools to bring in a delegation of 200 to an insignificant trade show? In fact, the profile of those in the Chinese delegation reveals that these were not the everyday lowly ones we’re now accustomed to in the little shops that have mushroomed across Zimbabwe.

This class from the lower echelons of Chinese society, come here as part of China’s strategy to ease unemployment back home and create more revenue streams. Many arrived here to pick up the economic pieces during hyperinflation. They are not the dragons. They are more of the vultures that came to feast on our economic carrion.

Many of them were supported by state banks which funded their initial containers of retail goods. When they arrived in Zimbabwe they didn’t check into hotels, but lived like squatters in houses in Hatfield, close to the airport. But the goods they sold provided vital market intelligence to the manufacturing companies back home.

 

Now as economic recovery beckons, Enter the Dragons, a high-powered business delegation from Tianjin, a province in northern China, whose capital goes by the same name. The capital is a metropolis ranking among the five national central cities of the People’s Republic, the others being Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Hong Kong City.

Tianjin’s Binhai New Area is a new growth pole in China, and since 2010 has maintained an annual growth rate of nearly 30% of the GDP. There are 12 000 industry enterprises in Tianjin with Gross National Product (GNP) of nearly US$50 billion. Its industry spans 180 categories, and has 36 large enterprises.

 

The four pillar industries are: automobiles; machinery and equipment; microelectronics and also telecommunications equipment; marine chemical and petroleum chemical industry; and quality steel tube and rolled steel. By the end of 2010, 285 Fortune Global 500 companies had established branch offices in Binhai, which has been described as the base of China’s advanced industry, financial reform, and innovation. The fact that the delegation at ZITF comprised no small fry suggests there is more than meets the eye. Many in the delegation were also from the textiles sector, which used to be Bulawayo’s mainstay.

The fact that they have already pushed government to grant Special Economic Zone (SEZ) status to Bulawayo, an area of interest to them is also significant. SEZ status will allow them tax free status and many concessions. They are clearly pushing their agenda. Unfortunately, as usual, our business sector appears to have been caught napping. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the Chinese are now virtually colonising Africa, albeit without guns.

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