VICE-President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week reportedly ducked a trip to China where government wants to revive inoperative economic deals which President Robert Mugabe and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping signed between 2014 and 2015.
This comes amid reports the Chinese are sticking to their initial demands which include, among many other issues, leadership renewal in Zanu PF, economic reform and tackling corruption.
Government sources said the Chinese only want to invest and give Zimbabwe a sustainable economic rescue package if Harare resolves the ongoing Mugabe succession crisis, addresses corruption and submits bankable project proposals.
Mnangagwa, government officials said, politely told Mugabe that he was likely to come back from China empty-handed, given that Harare had not fulfilled the demands made by the Chinese during his visit in July last year.
Once it became clear that Mnangagwa — who has reportedly fallen out with the Chinese and is now working with the British — was reluctant, Mugabe then decided to send Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko on Monday to attend the 19th China International Fair for Investment and Trade in Xiemen, which started yesterday and ends on Sunday.
He is expected to hold talks with the Chinese on a number of issues on the sidelines of the trade fair.
“It is rare that Mugabe dispatches Mphoko to China because that has never been his area,” the source said.
“Mphoko, given his Zapu background and having been a former ambassador to Moscow, has links with the Russians, while Mnangagwa has links with the Chinese, where he trained. It’s, however, likely that Mphoko, like Mnangagwa, will come back empty-handed in terms of investment deals and money. He is likely to be told the same conditions which Mnangagwa was told.”
Straight-talking Chinese leaders gave Mnangagwa a sobering reality check when he was in Beijing by raising several critical issues that Mugabe and his government usually feel uncomfortable dealing with.
“The Chinese were open to Mnangagwa when he went to Beijing in July last year,” said a senior government official.
“They want a government which constantly renews its leadership like they do, but this is not something Zanu PF is prepared to do. The Chinese also want the ruling Zanu PF government to take action on rampant corruption within its systems. This does not augur well with Mugabe whose ministers have been involved in massive looting and abuse of state funds.”
In December 2015, Xi visited Zimbabwe where he oversaw the signing of co-operation agreements in various economic sectors.
Mugabe and Xi signed memoranda of understanding on economic and technical co-operation, construction of a new parliament building (US$100 million) and building of the National Pharmaceutical Warehouse (US$51 million). Other deals include the concessional loan agreement on Hwange Thermal Power Station Units 7 and 8 Expansion Project (US$1,47 billion); investment agreement between Zimbabwe Power Company (Pvt) Limited and Sinohydro Corporation Limited, as well as the Kariba South expansion (US$536 million).
In July last year, Mnangagwa was invited by the Communist Party of China (CPC) for a five-day visit where he met various business leaders and a number of senior Chinese ruling party and government officials, including Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao.
Most of the deals are yet to bear fruit although some, like the Kariba South expansion project, are on course. The Chinese have, however, flatly refused to give the cash-strapped Zimbabwean government an economic bailout package.
In the interview with China’s CCTV, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe had fallen 20 years behind other countries in development. He said the government needed to swallow its pride and literally “bite the bullet” by reviewing some controversial economic policies to attract foreign investment.
He also said there was a need for reforms “to bring Zimbabwe back to the table of nations”.
“We have to see how we can create an investment environment which will attract the flow of capital. These are the tasks we face and we have to look at even legislation and our social systems need to be reformed in order to catch up with current global trends,” Mnangagwa said. “So we are looking at the reform measures that China has gone through to help us move forward.”
Sources said his interview, however, did not impress Mugabe who felt his deputy was attacking his policies while parading himself as a viable alternative.
Mphoko said Zimbabwe should copy the Chinese model, attract investment, pay its debts and tackle corruption to prosper like its Asian “all-weather friend”.