The Sunday Mail
Ambassador Guo Shaochun
I arrived in Harare last month and I have already had a deep impression of the beautiful scenery, pleasant climate and wonderful people of Zimbabwe.
I am especially moved by the friendship that Zimbabwean people extend to me, my family and the Chinese people.
China and Zimbabwe are far apart in geography, but we feel close to each other emotionally and psychologically.
Before coming here, I was director general of the consular department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and one of my important missions is to promote people to people exchanges between China and foreign countries.
Last year, Zimbabwe Government decided to adopt a visa-on-arrival policy to Chinese visitors.
This policy is bringing more Chinese tourists to Zimbabwe and promoting the mutual understanding between the people of our two countries.
This is just an example of our expanding cooperation across a wide range of areas.
China is the biggest and rising developing country and Africa is the rising continent that has the largest number of developing countries.
It is, therefore, important to have an in-depth understanding of China-Africa relations.
China-Africa relationship started in ancient times.
The great Chinese navigator Zhenghe led seven ocean expeditions and he reached as far as today’s Mozambique, east coast of Africa.
Porcelain and other precious artifacts unearthed from the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe also evidenced that there were exchanges between China and Zimbabwe a thousand years ago.
China-Africa relations significantly accelerated after World War II, when the struggle for self-determination and independence was sweeping across the world.
As early as 1950s and 1960s, China began to provide strong political, moral and material support to African people in their revolutionary struggle.
We trained thousands of freedom fighters for Zimbabwe in the Tanzanian military camp as well as in China.
Even today, some veteran soldiers of Zimbabwe who received military training in China can still sing the song of the Chinese People’s liberation Army.
During that period, Africa also gave enormous support to China.
In 1971, with majority support from African countries, the 26th General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution that restored the legal seat of the People’s Republic of China in the UN Security Council.
In the words of late Chairman Mao, “it is our African brothers who carried us into the United Nations”.
The second climax in China-Africa relations came around the start of the new millennium when China and Africa established the FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) mechanism in 2000.
Since then, China-Africa cooperation has made huge progress in all areas, especially in the economic sphere.
China has been the biggest trading partner of Africa for nine consecutive years, with the trade volume of US$204.2 billion in 2018.
The trade between the two sides is roughly balanced, with China’s export to Africa at US$104,9 billion and China’s import from Africa at US$99,38 billion.
China enjoys a small surplus of US$5,63 billion.
China’s accumulated investment to Africa has grown from less than US$100 million in 2000 to today’s over US$100 billion.
What are the reasons and drivers behind China-Africa booming cooperation? The reasons can be summarised by three “C”s.
The First “C” represents the “call”, meaning that China has responded to the calls for development of African countries.
It is common sense that a country needs a huge amount of capital and a series of infrastructure construction in its economic takeoff and early stage of industrialisation.
African countries are no exception. The assistance that China provides as its ability permits, is a response to the call of African countries.
Only by realising self-sustainable development, could Africa end poverty and conflict, and achieve durable peace and stability.
The Second “c” stands for “capacity”. It is not enough to help others simply with passion.
Capacity and ability are essential. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Over the past 70 years, China has traversed an extraordinary path, making outstanding achievements in its economic and social development.
What is the recipe for China’s success so far?
The core reason, I would say, is the leadership of the Chinese Community Party, which is the backbone of the nation.
Ever since modern times, China has made numerous trials and errors and only after we had the leadership of the Communist Party, the nations has achieved independence and grown prosperous and strong.
The Communist Party of China is the choice of history and the choice of the Chinese people.
Certainly, the Chinese Communist Party had stumbles, setbacks and made mistakes, but it has the courage to admit mistakes, make corrections and charge on.
It has kept renewing itself to stay abreast with the times. And it has maintained close links with the Chinese people.
President Xi Jinping has given the best explanation of this point.
He said, “The aspirations of the people to live a better life must always be the focus of our efforts.”
In the past 70 years, China had grown from a low-income country that could barely provide food and clothing to its people to a middle-income country enjoying moderate prosperity.
At least 740 million people have been lifted out of poverty; the middle-income population is now more than 300 million; the world’s largest social security system has been established covering old-age pension, health care, basic allowances and welfare housing.
In addition the average life expectancy has gone up from 67.8 in 1981 to 76.7 in 2017.
With the development of China, we have been able to put more resources to China-Africa cooperation.
During the Johannesburg summit of FOCAC in 2015, China provided US$60 billion to African countries.
And at the Beijing Summit of FOCAC last year, China pledged another US$60 billion to promote the development of Africa focusing on 8 major areas, namely industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security.
A growing China will naturally bring more opportunities and benefits to Africa.
The third “c” stands for “circumstances” or “condition”.
We have the right conditions for the development of China-Africa relations.
The salient features of China-Africa relations are equality, sincerity, mutual respect and win-win results.
China sees Africa as equal. We always advocate that countries, big or small, rich or poor are equal members of the international community.
We oppose the big bullying the small or the rich oppressing the poor.
We are against unilateral and illegal sanctions rudely applied against other countries.
In engaging with African countries, we apply a five- “no”-approach, as clearly elaborated by President Xinping at the 2018 Beijing Summit of FOCAC, that is: no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of our will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.
This five – “no”- approach shows the respect for Africa and we will always take Africa’s interests into consideration and never pursue “China first” policy.
These form the political trust and right atmosphere for China-Africa relations to blossom and yield fruits.
However, China-Africa relations are not without growing pains or headwinds.
Some countries or people have been accusing China of setting a debt trap for African countries by providing burdensome loans to them. I would say this is utterly groundless.
The debt issue of Africa is a complex historic issue and China is never the culprit to blame.
In fact and according to statistics, from 2000 to 2016, the debt owed to China only accounts for 1,8 percent of the total external debt of African countries.
If we take a closer look at the African countries that are heavily in debt, China is not their main creditor.
Take Zimbabwe as an example, as high as 77 percent of its government debt are owed to the Paris Club and other multilateral creditors, not to China.
On the contrary, China always conducts a careful feasibility study and market research, so that each project will deliver economic and social benefits as expected.
While some countries keep on claiming that they worry about Africa’s debt problem, they are not willing to provide financial resources or make investment in Africa, or worse still, they impose sanctions on African countries, holding back the economy and making ordinary people suffer.
Some countries or people also accuse China of looting African resources as “neo-colonists”.
China does buy natural resources from Africa, but this trade pattern exists between Africa and its other major trading partners as well.
China and Africa trade according to market rules and on a willing buyer willing seller basis.
Moreover, China is now doing more to add value to the natural resources of Africa by setting up processing plants in Africa.
China has no intention and no ability of monopolising Africa’s cooperation with the international community.
We welcome all efforts that can truly help Africa’s development and look forward to working with countries around the world to help Africa develop.
Only African people have the final say over whether China-Africa cooperation is good or bad.
Zimbabwe is a jewel of Africa and also a strategic partner of China.
We established diplomatic ties on the day of Zimbabwe’s declaration of independence.
Since then, great changes took place in both our countries, but our friendship has remained strong and steadfast.
We always appreciate the adherence to the “One-China” principle by Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe always cherishes the valuable support China gave it when China vetoed the proposed UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, which has been the first and so far the only time China exercised veto power in the Security Council for an African country.
In recent years, China-Zimbabwe relations have gained substantial momentum and progress on multiple fronts.
Our political mutual trust has been further cemented with frequent high-level exchange of visits.
Last year, President ED Mnangagwa paid visits to China twice and he agreed with President Xi Jinping to elevate our bilateral relationship to the comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation, which marked a new era of the relationship.
Our practical cooperation was boosted by the completion or taking off of some mega projects.
One is the Victoria Falls International Airport expansion project, which solidifies the position of the city as regional hub for aviation.
It is also a significant contributor to the tourism revenue of Zimbabwe, which recorded 2,6 million tourist arrivals last year, up 12 percent from the previous year.
Zimbabwe has been recommended recently by multiple international agencies as the must-visit place and one of the major reasons for the recommendation is the upgraded Victoria Falls International Airport.
Now the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport is also being upgraded and renovated with the assistance of China.
China also helped finance and complete the Kariba South power plant expansion project, which added 300MW to the national grid of Zimbabwe, bringing down the bill of electricity import of Zimbabwe by half for every month.
Another big project, Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion is underway and will be completed in less than three years.
By the time of completion, it will have created 3 000 jobs for Zimbabweans and add another 600 MW to Zimbabwe and help it gain energy sufficiency.
Chinese companies have made significant contribution to the Zimbabwean society.
They employ tens of thousands of local people and generate big amount of tax revenue and export earnings for Zimbabwe.
Take the Tianze tobacco company, as an example, it invested in Zimbabwe in 2005 when the Zimbabwean tobacco industry was in deep recession.
It then went into contract with local farmers and also purchased tobacco from the local auction place.
It is now the single biggest buyer of Zimbabwe tobacco, with the total purchase accounting for half of the total production of Zimbabwean tobacco.
Last year, tobacco production hit a record high of over 240 000 kgs in history and it is widely accepted that the Chinese investment contributed enormously to the recovery of the tobacco industry.
The Tianze Company has 76 employees in total, only 7 from China and the rest being all Zimbabweans.
Each year the Chinese government and company provides hundreds of government scholarships and training opportunities for Zimbabwean outstanding students and professional to study or improve in China.
We have sent 16 batches of medical doctors to Zimbabwe since 1985. Now ten doctors are based in the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare and each year they perform 500 surgical operations on average and treat hundreds of thousands of patients of Zimbabwe.
Recently, when Cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean Government issued an urgent appeal for help to the international community.
China responded with swiftness and sincerity.
The Chinese government immediately donated US$800 000 cash to the Zimbabwean Government and the Chinese community in Zimbabwe also instantly mobilized material supplies worth US$350,000 for the affected people.
This year, we are going to drill 500 boreholes and donate 10 165 tonnes of rice to the Zimbabwean people.
We hope our efforts will help Zimbabwean people to recover from the disaster and continue on its path to a better future.
Going forward, China will continue to enhance China-Africa and China-Zimbabwe practical cooperation as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges to take our relations to a higher level.
We will encourage more Chinese enterprises to invest in Zimbabwe in accordance with market rules to help Zimbabwe’s economic development.
There is an African saying that reads, “walk alone if you want to go fast; and walk together if you want to go far.”
Let us join hands to bring more benefits to both Chinese and African people and together make the world a better place to live.
The Second Belt and Road Initiative for International Corporation has been successfully held in Beijing and a series of cooperative measures have been put in place.
We strongly believe that Zimbabwe and China will continue to work together under the framework of BRI and FOCAC to continuously push forward cooperation and raise bilateral relations to a higher level.
Ambassador Guo is Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail.