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Why is China courting Zim?

When Yang Jiechi arrived in Harare on Thursday, the first such visit by a Chinese Foreign minister in a decade, he was almost certain to be bearing gifts.
After almost three years in which China has publicly shied away from Zimbabwe,  there are signs that Beijing has its eyes, once again, on the country’s rich mineral reserves.


Since the deadly elections in 2008, which forced President Robert Mugabe to form a “unity” government with his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, relations have cooled while Chinese officials hedged their bets over the country’s leadership and squirmed in the fierce glare of international condemnation.

“China gets embarrassed when embarrassing details become public,” said Philip Barclay, a former British diplomat in Harare and the author of Zimbabwe, Years of Hope and Despair.

“And the Chinese weapons shipment which arrived in 2008, just at the time when violence broke out around the Zimbabwean election.”
On Thursday, however, Yang reportedly  started negotiations over a significant injection of Chinese investment.

According to Tapiwa Mashakada, Economic Planning minister, Yang may be carrying with him as much as US$10 billion of investment from Beijing.
“We have met with officials from China Development Bank and they have said they are willing to invest up to US$10 billion,” he said, at a business conference in Harare earlier this month.

“The Chinese are looking into mining development, that is exploration and exploitation, agriculture, infrastructure development and information communication technology,” said Mashakada, a key member of MDC-T, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party.

Previous rumours suggested, however, that the money on the table is actually a US$3 billion loan from China’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank. Both sums dwarf previous Chinese investments in Zimbabwe, and Mashakada’s claim represents more than twice the value of Zimbabwe’s entire economy last year, and more than all other Chinese direct investments in Africa in 2009 put together.

“It is a pie-in-the-sky figure,” said Barclay. “It is much larger than previous Chinese investments and when they do invest money, the Chinese expect concrete benefits, usually closely linked to concessions,” he added.

More likely are targeted deals, perhaps for Zimbabwe’s platinum and zinc mines. Zimbabwe has the second-largest reserves of platinum in the world after South Africa.

Details of the Exim bank deal reported in Zimbabwe’s respected Zimbabwe Independent newspaper cite documents proposing a “master-loan facility” aimed at resuscitating Zimbabwe’s struggling economy after years of hyperinflation and disastrous government policies.

In return, China reportedly wants control over platinum deposits currently owned by the Zimbabwean government in the Selous and Northfields concession valued at between US$30 billion to US$40 billion.

Around 5 000 Chinese workers live in Zimbabwe and the two countries have a relationship stretching back to the founding of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, whose Marxist revolution was partly funded by Beijing.

Over the years, China has found it easy to do business with a country that was run along similar lines, with Zanu-PF’s politburo making unilateral decisions.
It is not clear if dealing with the unity government and Tsvangirai’s MDC party will be to Beijing’s taste, but for Zimbabwe, there seems little option.

“The MDC will send China warm and fuzzy messages too,” said Barclay. “Although the investment from China is not a particularly good fit, the Chinese are the only investors out there. There was a small delegation from Germany in 2010, but they backed off.”— Telegraph

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