BY TAURAI MANGUDHLA
FOLLOWING months of a huge outcry over Chinese enterprises’ “exploitative” strategy in Zimbabwe’s mineral resources, Beijing’s diplomats in Harare spoke out this week, telling the Zimbabwe Independent that they see massive political muscle flexing by big global forces in all that is happening.
Chinese businesses, facing tremendous pressure across African countries to review their attitude towards key issues like environmental protection and workers’ rights, have recently come under pressure in Zimbabwe, where they face resource plunder allegations.
The ruling Zanu PF government, led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has strong ties with its “all-weather friend”, China.
And after announcing the Look East Policy in 2005, Zimbabwe has increasingly looked up to China for grants and concessional loans to rebuild its faltering economy.
A string of key projects, such as the US$553 million Kariba hydroelectric power plant expansion, the US$150 million Victoria Falls International Airport expansion and the ongoing US$1,6 billion Hwange Thermal Power Station refurbishment, have been undertaken with financial and technical support from Chinese firms and lenders.
Some of these are controlled by Beijing’s government.
The Chinese are also in the final stages of constructing Zimbabwe’s new parliament on the outskirts of Harare, in addition to several multimillion-dollar projects such as the ongoing expansion of the Robert Mugabe International Airport.
But in the past few months, there has been an outcry across Zimbabwe, as villagers come under pressure from Chinese investors pegging mining claims on sacred areas, lands reserved for human settlements and areas with delicate environments.
Most of these investments have been earmarked for chrome mining ventures in places like Mavuradonha in Mashonaland Central, as well as in Mutoko, Domboshava, Murehwa and Hwange National Park.
In one report, Chinese investors were quoted as saying Zimbabweans had no rights to the land that a firm was earmarking for mining.
The remarks have courted the ire of Zimbabweans and human rights defenders, although in the central government, authorities have remained silent.
In written responses to the Independent’s questions this week, the embassy said while it did not interfere with Zimbabwe’s political affairs, attempts have been made to have the Asian political and economic powerhouse meddle into the affairs of the southern African country.
Speaking directly on accusations that the Chinese government’s co-operation with Africa, and specifically Zimbabwe, comes with political strings and coercive economic conditions, the embassy said all its agreements were transparent and have no strings attached.
“China’s assistance to and co-operation with Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa never comes with political strings. Neither does China impose economic coercive conditions, such as demanding resources as a collateral or doing it in exchange for resources,” the embassy said. “So far, there is no agreement about mining between the Chinese and Zimbabwean governments. In fact, China’s assistance and China-Africa co-operation are the most open and transparent.
“It is transparent because it is not used to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, instigate chaos and even attempt regime change, although a few people in this country want us to do so publicly or privately.”
It said negative publicity on its nationals and Chinese-owned businesses was in fact discrimination and a deliberate smear campaign being instigated by foreign forces.
The embassy said China’s dealings with Zimbabwe were transparent because these had produced “tangible and visible results”, which have helped Zimbabwe’s development.
This strategy was the best and most powerful response to “illegal and unilateral sanctions” imposed on this country, the embassy said.
In a way, the embassy’s position aligns with developments that have taken place in Zimbabwe since the southern African country fell out with major powers at the turn of the century, leading to the imposition of the sanctions that saw the economy fall by 50% between 2000 and 2008.
Investment inflows from Beijing have increased yearly during the period, while that from Western economies has been declining as the deadlock continues.
This decline has seen Zimbabwe’s foreign direct investment inflows (FDI), at about US$500 million a year, falling to only a tenth of FDI flowing into regional peers, some of whom have attracted up to US$6 billion annually.
“To set the record straight, Zimbabwe’s top creditor country is not China. Millions of ordinary Zimbabweans are benefiting from the schools, hospitals, airports, power plants, and warehouses built with support from China,” the Chinese embassy said.
“Quite a number of these projects are built by Chinese grants that are the new parliament building, Mahusekwa Hospital, national pharmaceutical warehouses, and a number of schools. Some are built with Chinese concessional loans. It is only fair to say Chinese loans are sustainable, high-quality loans that bring enormous returns for Zimbabwe.
“They are most sought after by many other nations. Is there anything wrong with helping Zimbabwe build the infrastructure urgently needed for national development and to meet the people’s daily needs?
“Never forget the fact that while China is helping Zimbabwe, some countries threaten Zimbabwe to pay a big price for Zimbabweans to regain their own land.
“It has come to our attention that an organised, premeditated smearing campaign is being mounted against China’s Africa policy, China’s co-operation with Africa, and Chinese companies in Africa. Those behind this attack are some foot soldiers bought by certain foreign forces at a price of US$1 000 a pitch.”
It added that Chinese mining companies currently working in Zimbabwe were not backed by intergovernmental arrangements, but instead all privately-owned except Sinosteel, which is the controlling shareholder of Zimasco Consolidated Enterprises.
It specialises in manufacturing high value-added products for Zimbabwe to export.
The consulate said it is the consistent position of the Chinese government that all Chinese companies operating overseas abide by local laws, respect local cultural norms, and contribute to the local community as much as they can.