Zim-Sino relations need reset

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa returns home tomorrow from China after his first state visit abroad following his seizure of power from ex-president Robert Mugabe last November.
The trip was reasonably useful. Mnangagwa says it was a “huge success”. Perhaps, maybe not.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

Prior to that Mnangagwa has been around the region to introduce himself to different leaders and seek legitimacy. He has also been there to explain Zimbabwe’s political and security situation after the coup. The president has also travelled to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the Great Lakes region.

This week he was out in China to engage the world’s second largest economy naturally to get acceptance, legitimacy and look for an economic rescue package and investment.

Although he did not get the US$1,5 billion bailout, he managed to secure infrastructure funding and elevate relations between the two countries from being “all-weather friends to the level of an all-encompassing strategic partnership”.

This is what needs to be done. The relations between Beijing and Harare, mainly defined by party-to-party ties between the Communist Party of China and Zanu PF, need to be reset at higher national strategic and economic levels. It is already happening, especially on the economic front, but that has to be systematically institutionalised and carefully nurtured. The two countries now have to go beyond relations of convenience based on history and sentimentality to ties of strategic importance guided by geo-political, economic and security imperatives.

Given its position in relation to China due to history and comradeship, Zimbabwe needs to position itself more strategically to receive the bulk of Chinese investment and trade in the region, and ultimately continent.

The base is already there as their trade now scales over US$1 billion annually, but more needs to be done to transform the current arrangement into a pioneer for the entire China–Africa relationship, particularly through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and other such platforms.

The Chinese have already set the stage for that by ensuring Mnangagwa is one of only three African leaders invited to visit Beijing this year and elevating its relations with Zimbabwe to a new strategic level.

As Africa’s largest trading partner and a major investor, China’s actions have huge implications for the development of the continent and Zimbabwe. Thus, Harare needs to accurately anticipate and assess the Chinese agenda, weighing the good part and downside of the relationship, in order to approach Beijing with strategies and priorities that will not only align with its own development plan, but also meet the people’s needs.

If the relationship with China is to genuinely help Zimbabwe, it must lead to concrete agricultural development, industrialisation, technical assistance, job creation, and technology transfer through investment in manufacturing industries, not just extraction.

In other words, Zimbabwe must carefully examine China’s model in Africa to engage with it honestly and strategically.

Without a strategy, Zimbabwe will just be a reservoir of extraction of natural resources and a dumping ground for cheap Chinese goods. That exploitative model will not help Zimbabwe develop.

Hence, authorities’ understanding of the politics and political economy of natural resource extraction is critical.

The global political economy of resource extraction, the emergence of resource nationalism and socially inclusive national development programmes are also key.

Without this and a proper engagement strategy, Zimbabwe, like many other developing countries, could find itself reeling from the resource curse, the paradox of plenty, in which an abundance of resources is characterised by lack of economic development and poverty.

China and Zimbabwe should build a national strategy regarding the other, upgrading their relationship from one that is party-to-party to one that is national, while aligning their foreign policy objectives for mutual benefit in a global context.

This does not mean Zimbabwe should drift away from the West to become a Chinese satellite state, but that it engages pragmatically in its own national interest.

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