The Chinese have penetrated almost every economic sector in Zimbabwe, including mining, energy, real estate, transport, tourism, agriculture, telecommunications and the media. There are more than 80 Chinese state-owned enterprises operating in Zimbabwe, and China amassed a total of $ 10.45 billion in investments and contracts in the country between 2005 and 2020.
The China-Africa relationship has blossomed to the point where China has become almost ubiquitous in Africa. But the relationship between the two sides was not an overnight event. It was forged during the heady days of the anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s and 1970s in Africa, when China provided moral and material support to a number of liberation movements in countries such as Algeria, Mozambique, Tanzania. and Zimbabwe.
China’s role in liberation struggles in various African countries remains a key source of legitimacy for Sino-African relations – at least in the eyes of African leaders. One of the liberation movements to enjoy China’s sympathy and support was the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu). China provided Zanu’s military wing, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla), with ideological support, material assistance and military training in the 1960s when the Zimbabwe Liberation Movement decided to take up arms against the white minority regime.
The current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is reported having led the first five Zanu members sent to China in 1963 for six-month military training. Even Zanla’s iconic commander, Josiah Magama Tongogara, was trained in mass mobilization, strategy and military tactics at Nanjing Academy in Beijing in 1966.
China also sent military instructors from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to train Zanla’s soldiers in Mgagao training camp in Tanzania. It was from these encounters that Mao Zedong’s guerrilla tactics, the importance of peasant mobilization and concepts such as “people’s army” and “people’s war” were pierced by Zanu cadres. . China’s decision to help Zanu was not entirely altruistic, but was in part motivated by the need to find its place in southern Africa to contain Soviet influence during the Sino-Soviet conflict of the 1960s. it paid off handsomely for China as Zanu’s armed struggle helped force the white minority government to accept democratic elections. Zanu-PF won the 1980 elections and seized power in Zimbabwe, marking the end of colonial rule.
When he took power at the end of the white minority rule in April 1980, diplomatic relations were quickly established between the two countries, initiating the first phase of Sino-Zimbabwean relations after independence.
Blessing-Miles Tendi, in his book The army and politics in Zimbabwe, described bilateral relations between China and Zimbabwe as “weakened without friction” during the first two decades of independence (1980-2000). This period saw high-level exchanges of visits with the late former President Robert Mugabe visiting China no less than six times. Zimbabwe then received the Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang in 1983 and former president Jiang zemin in 1996 among other senior Chinese officials.
As a sign of friendship, China built Zimbabwe’s National Sports Stadium in the 1980s and also provided a modest amount of loans ($ 26 million in 1980, $ 33 million in 1983, $ 25 million in 1987 and $ 9.8 million in 1993) to aid development. in the newly independent country. However, these loans have become insignificant compared to loans from the West (World Bank, $ 417.3 million; European Economic Community, $ 156 million; and Sweden, $ 204 million).
Thus, while contributing to the advent of independence, China played a rather moderate economic role during the first 20 years of post-colonial rule in Zimbabwe.
China had just emerged from the Mao era in the late 1970s and entered the era of reform led by Deng Xiaoping in which ideology took precedence in its relations with other countries. However, the ideological influence of the Communist Party of China (CCP) during the liberation was visible in the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric of Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader Robert Mugabe, even though he applied it to a limited extent on the political plan. Zanu-PF’s strong support for the campaign, its desire for a one-party state, and the brutal suppression of dissent were perhaps some of the enduring elements conveyed by CCP cadres that shaped the approach. of Zanu-PF in terms of governance.
It would take the coincidence of China’s “exit” policy in the late 1990s and a dramatic turn of events in Zimbabwe to usher in the second phase of relations between the two countries.
In 2002, following the controversial Accelerated Land Reform Program (FTLRP), Zimbabwe was completely isolated by the West and had been slapped with targeted economic and political sanctions by the European Union (EU), Australia, Canada and the United States. The sanctions were based on allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by the government of Zimbabwe.
The country was also suspended from the Bretton Woods institutions – the world Bank in 2000 and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2003 – for not having paid the arrears of its debts. Without access to lines of credit from the Bretton Woods institutions and caring for a decimated agricultural sector, Zimbabwe plunged into catastrophic economic decline which saw its gross domestic product decline by almost 50% by 2008.
It was in this grim situation that Zimbabwe announced the “East Looking Policy” (LEP) in 2003, aimed at cultivating close relations with East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, India, Indonesia and especially China for economic and diplomatic salvation.
In his 2005 Independence Day speech at the National Sports Stadium in the capital Harare, Robert Mugabe was city like saying “we turned east where the sun rises and our backs west where the sun sets”. He say that like “Newly acquired Chinese jet fighters shouted above the Chinese construction stage to emphasize its policy of friendship with the Asian powers.” Mugabe recalled how China stood alongside Zanu-PF during the liberation struggle, suggesting that China was a true friend, unlike the West.
China wasted no time in filling the void left by the West in Zimbabwe. The Chinese have since entered almost every economic sector in Zimbabwe, including mining, energy, real estate, transport, tourism, agriculture, telecommunications and the media. There are over 80 Chinese state-owned companies operating in Zimbabwe.
According to Global investment tracking published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), China accumulated a total of $ 10.45 billion in investments and contracts in Zimbabwe between 2005 and 2020. With nearly $ 3 billion in loan commitments in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2018, China became Zimbabwe’s largest lender. .
Some of the biggest investment projects China has funded in Zimbabwe include the Hwange Thermal Power Plant ($ 1.2 billion), the Kariba South Hydroelectric Project ($ 320 million) and $ 219 million for the state-owned NetOne mobile telecommunications.
Between 2000 and 2014, Zimbabwe was the second largest recipient of Chinese official development assistance (ODA) in sub-Saharan Africa with a total of 71 (5.4%) social, production and economic projects worth 1, $ 79 billion. Other manifestations of close ties include China’s construction of the $ 98 million project National Defense College in 2013, the Chinese company Shanghai Construction Group built a new parliamentary complex and the award of the largest diamond concessions to two Chinese companies, Anjin and Jinan, in the diamond fields of Marange in Zimbabwe in 2011.
Zimbabwe and China also cooperate culturally. In 2006, the University of Zimbabwe launched the Confucius Institute of Zimbabwe funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education for the purpose of promoting Chinese culture and language in Zimbabwe. The Institute offers a six-level course in Chinese languages and has seen more than 5,000 students enroll and produced more than 2,000 graduates since 2007.
Zimbabwe and China have also strengthened their educational ties. A Chinese company, the Hengshun Zhongsheng Group, funded the Zimbabwe Presidential Scholarship Program to send 50 students each year to study at Chinese universities.
At the geopolitical level, China vetoed the resolution of the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2007, which was supported by the United States, Britain and France. Although China has emphasized its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, Zanu-PF and the CCP still maintain a party-to-party relationship. Zanu-PF leaders frequently travel to China to workshops on party building and economic development.
Thus, the China-Zimbabwe relationship, itself a microcosm of the larger China-Africa relationship, is strongly rooted in the ties created during the anti-colonial struggle. The liberation movements have been instrumental in facilitating and promoting China-Africa relations.
The CCP’s investment in the liberation movements when they had nothing to offer has today produced multiple returns for China in the form of global geopolitical support and access to abundant resources. natural resources of Africa. In retrospect, as the CCP celebrates its 100th anniversary in July 2021, its alignment with the decolonization movement may have been one of its best decisions. DM