The Sunday Mail
A fortnight ago, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained the country’s foreign policy towards other developing countries using three “watchwords”, which could help explain how Beijing has been relating to its counterparts in Africa, including Zimbabwe.
The State Councilor introduced the three watchwords as “treat each other as equals”, “help each other” and “focus on development”.
This approach has profound meaning on those seeking to understand how the Asian giant has been interacting with the Third World.
Not least, it is the very antithesis of the attitudes and approaches by traditional Western powers, historically and currently, that have been characterised by subjugation, exploitation and destruction.
In light of misunderstandings as well as propaganda and misinformation against China’s increasingly important relations with Africa, the State Councilor’s iteration of the three watchwords as guiding principles is critical.
Interestingly, a careful analysis shows that China has actually been consistent over the years, spanning half a century, in the practice of these principles and philosophy.
Zimbabwe enjoys strong historical relations with the Asian giant.
Understanding China’s policy within the matrix or prism of a consistent policy enables us to see through baseless accusations such as that China is taking undue advantage of current economic or political dynamics.
Three watchwords and their import
According to Beijing, China treats every country equally, especially small and medium-sized ones. Given its own historical experience, China “fully understands the extraordinary value and importance of equality for developing countries, especially small and medium-sized ones”.
This is opposed to traditional Western powers that wantonly seek “a position of strength” or talk about being a world leader from time to time.
According to China, such moves are a far cry from what China does.
Instead, there should be greater democracy in international relations, with world affairs being managed by all countries through consultation.
This is the essence of multilateralism that China has been advocating for, specifically calling for the United Nations to be the centre of the practice.
Zimbabwe, which shares this approach, has benefited from China’s respect, fraternity and collegiality.
That is why it calls China an “all-weather friend”.
Such status can only be achieved in a situation of equality.
The second watchword that guides China, “help each other”, has been in practice in its relations with Zimbabwe.
China argues that “to safeguard the common interests of developing countries and defend the small and medium-sized countries’ legitimate rights to development, developing countries must help and support each other, pool and amplify our common messages, coordinate and strengthen our common positions, and firmly and consistently oppose all power politics and bullying acts.”
Since the early 1960s, China has helped Zimbabwe fight and defeat colonialism, achieve Independence (in 1980) as well as foster development and economic progress in the post-Independence era.
China has been responsible for some of Zimbabwe’s most iconic infrastructure projects as well as economic cooperation.
Beijing’s assistance to Zimbabwe has been amplified in the past 20 years that the country has been under Western sanctions.
The period of sanctions had been dark.
Zimbabwe has only had China and its African neighbours for support.
With its stature, China’s decisive assistance has been in the form of infrastructure development (air, energy, health and telecommunications), foreign direct investment by various Chinese companies, making them the largest investor bloc; health assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Cyclone Idai, drought, among others.
In light of the bombardment by the West through sanctions and isolation, China provided the buffer – a critical difference!
A common saying goes: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
China has played this part admirably.
It is also critical to note that helping each other goes beyond the material. Zimbabwe and China have cooperated and supported each other in multiple forums at the global stage, including the United Nations, as they share common interests based on ideology and principles.
Chinese people and companies have also been engaged in massive philanthropic work in Zimbabwe assisting vulnerable communities and families.
As we speak, the portfolio of Chinese philanthropy – previously unheralded – is burgeoning and becoming one of the most important features of friendship between the two peoples.
Lastly, using the philosophy of the third watchword, “focus on development”, China has supported developing countries working towards development, revitalisation, improving people’s well-being and enhancing national strength.
Various infrastructure investments mentioned above underscore China’s commitment to focus on development.
Through donations and grants funded by the Chinese government, Zimbabwe has managed to enhance infrastructure development and many key national development projects have so far been completed in line with the National Development Strategy One (NDS1).
Predictable and systematic
What is clear from the above is that China’s foreign policy towards developing nations is well thought-out, standard, systematic and predictable.
It is like an open book.
Concrete frameworks such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Belt and Road Initiative and, lately, the Global Development Initiative all meld within this agenda.
Platforms convened by China to further its policy goals are open, inclusive and progressive. China doesn’t have ulterior motives.
This is why, in turn, the Asian giant is being rewarded with trust by many countries in the South at both State level and among ordinary people.
Unsurprisingly, criticism and propaganda targeting China is coming mostly from other countries which now feel left out as well as their sponsored surrogates who are paid to undermine Chinese investments and cooperation. The criticisms are groundless and unjustified in a number of ways. China has been criticised for seeking to colonise African countries, including Zimbabwe, and leaving them drowning in debt, but this claim rings hollow on the basis of the evidence on the ground.
Those behind such criticisms deliberately ignore the fact that China has proven to be a firm defender of the independence and sovereignty of developing countries and does not interfere with the internal politics of governments.
Its provision of financial support has also been well structured, with a lot of concessional terms.
In 2020, China forgave debts of African countries, not only providing relief, but also showing how sincere and flexible Beijing is.
A report noted that there were 16 documented cases of debt restructuring worth US$7,5 billion in 10 African countries between 2000 and 2019, as China wrote off the accumulated arrears of at least 94 interest-free loans amounting to over US$3,4 billion.
China has gone further to support economic development and progress, which will yield huge positives for individual countries as well as developing world as a whole.
The policy clarity of China – evidenced in the three watchwords enunciated by State Councilor – should help put China’s foreign policy in its proper context.
*Albert Chavhunduka is a researcher with a local think-tank