Zim, China relations poised for greater strength

Briefing with Tichaona Zindoga

On June 7, China’s new ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Zhou Ding, presented his credentials to President Mnangagwa, starting his tenure as Beijing’s representative in Harare.

Mr Zhou’s arrival in Zimbabwe is important in many ways.

 This article seeks to highlight that his tenure could signal many important developments in the comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation between the two countries.

First, the envoy is coming at a time that the two countries are enjoying excellent and ever-growing bilateral relations in major respects.

Recently, China announced that it will accept the export of Zimbabwe’s citrus fruit to the Chinese market. This followed the satisfaction of regulatory frameworks; and the development is seen to open doors to other fruits such as avocado that Zimbabwe has massive potential to supply to the Asian market.

Already, China is the biggest exporter of Zimbabwe’s “golden leaf” – tobacco – a sector that China assisted to stabilise post-2000 when the country embarked on the land reform programme. Chinese companies supported newly-resettled farmers by supplying them with inputs and market. Today, China is the biggest buyer of Zimbabwe’s tobacco accounting for millions of tonnes per year and over half of exports.

Earlier in the year, China handed over boreholes to assist locals to get clean water. Under the 1000 Borehole Project, China has drilled 1200 boreholes across the country to assist Zimbabweans get clean water, especially in rural areas where people travel long distances and often compete with animals for the water.

Last year, China achieved a number of milestones in assisting and cementing its relations with Zimbabwe through the completion over of the New Parliament Building, the massive, imposing structure at the heart of a proposed new capital city, north west of Harare. The building will be handed over in a few months’ time.

 China also completed and handed over the National Pharmaceutical Warehouse, a massive structure built near Sally Mugabe (formerly Harare) Hospital  which will eliminate supply-side bottlenecks.

On the back of that, China assisted Zimbabwe in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, as it provided personal protective gear, medicines and skills. With donations of over 12 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, China ensured Zimbabwe was among countries that managed the pandemic better, against odds. For its part,  the Government of Zimbabwe bought medicines from China thanks to an open policy by Beijing when other countries in the West were involved in “vaccine nationalism”. (By contrast, President Xi Jinping declared access to the vaccine, a “public good”.)

In the past years, trade between China and Zimbabwe has grown, and last year hit US$2.43 billion with Zimbabwe enjoying surplus. At the same time Chinese investments have grown US$2.7 billion in the last four years, and accounting to over US$10 billion since 2003 as China has become the southern African nation’s biggest source of Foreign Direct Investment. Consequently, Chinese companies employ over 100 000 people, making Chinese enterprises the biggest employer bloc.

In the past few years, a number of projects aided by China cover areas such as energy, transport and telecommunications.

At a political level, China and Zimbabwe enjoy sound ideological connections, with the former supporting Zimbabwe’s quest against Western sanctions. Zimbabwe supports the One-China policy, which is at the core of China’s core interests in global geopolitics.

‘High-level robustness’

Relations between the two countries is on a solid footing, and the two sides agree. While receiving credentials from Mr Zhou, President Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was willing to deepen cooperation with China in various fields.

The Zimbabwe leader said Zimbabwe attached great importance to its relations with China and will continue to firmly adhere to the one-China principle, to work with China to deepen cooperation in various fields under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Global Development Initiative.

For his part, Mr Zhou said the friendship between China and Zimbabwe has been growing ever strong, and China will continue to promote the in-depth development of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries to better benefit the two peoples.

In his first signed article on the Embassy website, Mr Zhou noted that Zimbabwe “is an important country in southern Africa”, with whom China enjoy a long standing friendship and diplomatic dating back to Zimbabwe’s first day of Zimbabwe’s independence.

He explained that in 2018, China and Zimbabwe established a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation.

“In recent years, under the strategic guidance of the two state leaders, China-Zimbabwe relations have shown high-level robustness,” wrote Mr Zhou. “Our two countries have achieved fruitful results in cooperation of various fields, consolidated mutual support in international affairs and jointly safeguarded international fairness and justice.

“China-Zimbabwe relations have become a model of cooperation between China and African countries.”

What next for China-Zimbabwe relations?

No doubt, the new envoy builds on the wonderful groundwork that has been made in recent years.

Further, considering the stage of development that Zimbabwe is at, there will be need for more cooperation to build primary industries such as agriculture, build infrastructure such as roads, dams and rail; and assist Zimbabwe’s health sector.

Zimbabwe requires more high quality investments from China and growth in trade to bring more income and uplift the living standards of Zimbabweans.

At the same time, given the fast evolving global dynamics, Zimbabwe and China need to support each other within frameworks such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilisation Initiative, all of which present a theoretical and practical ways in which China is leading a changing world. In essence, the aforementioned initiatives represent complex and coordinated plans for globally linked infrastructure development, supercharged shared global economic progress, security for all and mutually-reinforcing progress for mankind in a modern era.

With Zimbabwe holding elections this August, the aftermath provides a vital opportunity to inform the next steps for relations between the two countries.

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