CHINA has downplayed and rejected the oft-repeated charge that it is building a colonial empire in Africa in the same way European powers did in the 19th century, blaming Western countries for lying to the world that it was stripping poor countries of their national assets when they fail to clear debts owed to the Asian economic powerhouse.
BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA
China — Africa’s biggest trading partner — has frequently been accused of pursuing a predatory, unethical resource-driven colonialism which included extracting the continent’s mineral wealth at knockdown prices to propel its economic growth.
Criticism grew in the aftermath of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) summit which saw African heads of state trooping to Beijing early this month, where they were promised US$60 billion worth of loans to support development projects in their countries for the next three years.
This is despite the fact that many countries, including Zimbabwe, have failed to repay loans and rrears extended to them under a previous facility of the same value.
Reports that China was seizing a national airport in Zambia and claiming a 60% stake in the Zambian state broadcaster as a way of recovering the loans have triggered global outrage. Zambian information minister Dora Siliya later denied the reports.
Zimbabweans have similar concerns after it emerged that Harare owes Beijing upwards of US$300 million in arrears from previous loans.
The news of China taking over Sri Lanka’s strategic port and 15 000 hectares of land on a 99-year lease recently also raised questions and debate on the African continent about the kind of agreements African presidents are signing with China.
Fearing the worst, the South African parliament, led by the minority leader from the Democratic Alliance (DA) Mmusi Maimane, demanded to know from President Cyril Ramaphosa terms of Eskom’s US$2,4 billion loan with the Chinese Development Bank. Maimane gave President Ramaphosa 14 days to table the terms in parliament “in the interest of openness and transparency.” Eskom is South Africa’s electricity public utility.
Amid raging tempers, a senior diplomat from the Chinese Embassy in Harare this week dismissed reports of Beijing’s new conolial agenda as propaganda peddled by Western countries rattled by the Asian giant’s dominance on the African market.
In a detailed briefing, the diplomat told the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview on Wednesday China has no plans to seize any Zimbabwean assets despite the country failing to settle arears. He also said the loan deals did not involve host countries mortgaging their resources to China.
“In the case of Zimbabwe, there is no mortgage of resources for now between China and Zimbabwe, and we never force any conditions on any country. We are equal, we are brothers and sisters,” he said.
“Zimbabwe has debts and arrears to China, have we seized any assets? We have never done that. I can tell you, we will never seize assets from Zimbabwe, although there are arrears to China. We provided loans to Zimbabwe and many other African countries. I admit the debt burden is increasing, but we never seize assets. What should be done is that if you borrow loans, you put them to good use such as invest in infrastructure and you develop the economy. If you get loans and you squander the money on consumption, and you have no projects and the economy does not develop, that is terrible. Good investments will mean that you are able to repay the loans. We have full confidence that if you wisely invest and come up with good policies and bankable projects, in two or three years, you will be able to clear the loans,” he added.
Western powers, the diplomat said, were spreading false information to tarnish China’s image.
“We never seized the port in Sri Lanka, how can we do that? We never do that. That information came from the opposition parties in Sri Lanka and some Western countries that do not want to see us developing very close relations with our neighbouring countries because, if we go there, our influence will be expanding to the Indian Ocean and they feel threatened. So they always try to create stories. Here in Africa, it is the same thing. Since 2015, we have provided US$120 billion to finance operations in African countries.
Africa and China have become closer; they (Westerners) are afraid of us. They can not sleep and therefore they create all kinds of stories.
“Zambian leaders and South African president have both refuted the allegations, saying China has never had any such debt-trap diplomacy. They are jealous of our co-operation and they always want to create a sense of fear between China and Africa. We have to take care of our relations jealously.
“They say that we want to use the loans to colonise Africa. They came here with guns and clerics and their companies. I know what they did in Zimbabwe; they occupied the land; they cheated King Lobengula into signing concessions and they killed a lot of people.
Then they say the Chinese are colonialists. I am a little bit curious; do Chinese come here with guns, do Chinese kill a lot of Zimbabweans, many Africans, do Chinese ship a lot of Africans to South America, North America, to work as slaves? I raise these questions. Have we launched attacks against one North African country and seized a head of state and killed him? Do we send any fighter planes to any African country, have we launched any missiles? In Sudan, they launched a missile at one pharmaceutical company. We have never done that, so who are the colonialists here? I think it is very clear that they always want to create trouble between us.
“They are scared, that is why they are creating fake news. We will never give up. We will never accept being bullied. We are not afraid of anyone. Success is in our hands and even some of their intellectuals have agreed that China is advancing. We call upon them to lift sanctions and provide more loans to Zimbabwe without any conditions or political strings attached and help the Zimbabwean people to develop,” he said.
In his address to Zimbabweans based in the United States where he is attending the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said there was no risk that the country would fall into a Chinese debt trap since it was attracting self-financing investments.