The Sunday Mail
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-dimensional undertaking aimed at enhancing economic connectivity between the Asian powerhouse and the rest of the globe, is one of the most talked-about trade and industry initiatives worldwide. With potential trade volumes running into trillions of dollars, the initiative has been dubbed the “Initiative of the 21st Century”.
The Sunday Mail Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi spoke to Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to China, Mr Paul Chikawa, in Beijing last week regarding Zimbabwe’s place in BRI. We publish Ambassador Chikawa in his own words.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a broad, all-inclusive concept adopted by Beijing to promote investment primarily into infrastructure, which, in turn, will boost connectivity and trade among nations.
While the concept is based on the ancient Silk Road and Maritime Silk Route, today’s BRI is open to all willing partners to such an extent that President Xi Jinping has described it as the Initiative of the 21st Century.
The BRI is a trade and infrastructure concept, meaning there are enormous up and downstream opportunities for any and all countries who have something to offer to the global economy. President Xi has themed this “Towards a future of shared destiny”.
There are various figures bandied about, but it is generally agreed that several trillions of United States dollars are required to put up the rail, road, aviation, maritime and telecommunications projects necessary for the connectivity. This infrastructure will boost business and people-to-people connections, too. In discussing the BRI, it is important to note that broad and general as it is; the concept seeks to complement other policies from/in China as well as from elsewhere.
Such policies include the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in the case of Sino-Africa relations. Above all, it is also critical to note that at the end of the day, the utility of any concepts boils down to bilateral relations and implementation.
Zimbabwe stands to gain to the extent that we, the Zimbabweans, identify our core interests and core competencies/strengths which we then deploy in our interface with other parties in the context of the BRI.
A Shona idiom goes, “Hakuna inofurira irere.” In this context, I appeal to Zimbabweans from all walks of life to, in our collective interest, focus on areas of agreement rather than amplify whatever differences. During my time here in China, I have been exposed to a very important Chinese trait. They are generally positive-sum game players and not zero-sum game players.
It’s win-win; not antagonism.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister responsible for Africa, Mr Zhang Min, has just been to Zimbabwe where he held high-level engagements on boosting our bilateral ties based on the interface of our two Presidents.
Records will show that this Vice Minister, Beijing’s point person on African matters, has visited us on a number of occasions in the recent past. I leave it to any fair-minded person to deduce what this means in terms of the state of Harare-Beijing relations, and the potential therein. It is also noteworthy that our two Presidents met on January 9, 2017, and this was the fourth time in three consecutive years they were meeting.
In 2014, President Mugabe visited China; and in 2015, President Xi reciprocated. Prior to the 2015 visit, the two leaders had had a sideline meeting in Indonesia. I have said it before and repeat it here: One cannot wish for a better diplomatic and political platform in our bilateral ties, thanks to the two Presidents who relate very cordially.
The challenge is on all of us to convert this diplomatic and political goodwill into tangible investments and trading opportunities. It is in this regard that concepts like the BRI, Focac and others are important guides. Zimbabwe stands to benefit from the BRI to the extent that we identify and exploit opportunities in accordance with what we possess in terms of resources and opportunities as well as what China and other BRI partners have to offer.
A better connected Africa or world, for instance, is both a market and supplier to Zimbabwe; depending on the goods/services at play. For instance, improved links within the tripartite Comesa/EAC/Sadc will mean more opportunities for Zimbabwe’s products and services.
In turn, we will also secure goods and services that we require from fellow tripartite members. Logically, this leads to more productivity, economies of scale and industrialisation, among other positive spins-offs.
In order for the above to happen, peace and stability at national, regional and global levels are pre-requisites. It is time for Zimbabwe to maximise its long-standing relations with China. Having said this, it is also fair to point out that there will be challenges in any relationship. What is paramount is to rise to the occasion and deal with those challenges effectively, efficiently and expeditiously whenever they arise. For the avoidance of doubt, our interests in the BRI are not to the exclusion of any progressive and friendly players.
The BRI should be seen as an addition to the global economic architecture and governance. I wish to reinforce that membership is open to all. Recently, Madagascar became a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and is playing a complementary role in the BRI.
It is critical that we be positive, pragmatic and focused in our approach, noting that our practical work will convert the chances and potential presented by the BRI into concrete projects.