The government of Zimbabwe recently completed agreements to receive over $58 million in investment grants from China during a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Zimbabwean media reported Wednesday.
The FOCAC formally met last year, but Zimbabwe sent representatives to Beijing this week to sign the completed written agreements discussed during that event. Zimbabwe’s Herald notes that envoys from another 52 African countries attended, seeking Chinese investment and loans.
China has invested heavily in Africa during Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s tenure, which began early this decade. Xi has made Africa the centerpiece of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a sprawling international infrastructure project seeking to rebuild and expand the Ancient Silk Road. While that trade route connected Beijing to Western Europe through Eurasia, the BRI seeks to build advanced ports, rails, and roadways throughout Africa, Latin America, and the South China Sea, offering developing countries predatory loans used to pay Chinese workers to build these projects.
The U.S. government has vocally warned against taking Chinese loans, arguing that the high interest rates and sheer price of the projects for which China gives loans threaten nations’ sovereignty. Experts believe that the terms of these loans allow the Chinese government to take over the infrastructure projects once they are completed and governments cannot pay them, giving the Communist Party a foothold onto territory legally outside their control. In at least one case — a new port the Chinese build in Sri Lanka — this has proven to be the case.
In Kenya, one of the countries most deeply invested in BRI, locals have accused Chinese officials of “apartheid” policies, including refusing to give skilled jobs on projects to Kenyans and keeping local workers from riding site buses or eating next to Chinese workers during their break time.
Zimbabwean officials have not expressed concern with the racist polities China stands accused of implementing elsewhere in Africa.
According to the Herald, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo represented Zimbabwe in Beijing this week and signed a variety of infrastructure agreements. China also agreed to joint wildlife protection projects.
“Zimbabwe submitted projects in areas such as dams, roads and other infrastructure, there were also projects on agriculture, tourism and many other initiatives that are being discussed,” Zhao Baogang, a Chinese embassy counselor, told the Herald. “Zimbabwe has abundant resources in areas like agriculture. Tourism will also benefit from FOCAC, while some Chinese investors are planning to build a hotel in this country.”
Moyo promoted closer relations with China in remarks to New Zimbabwe, fully defending the Communist Party and Xi Jinping.
“The Chinese success story is an illustration of a combination of coordinated strategic planning, effective management and implementation, hard work, discipline and perseverance that must be emulated,” Moyo said. “Zimbabwe … embraces President Xi Jinping’s vision of a community with a shared future for mankind.”
Moyo contended that Zimbabwe’s debts were not the concern of any other country.
“It should also be noted that the issue of debt sustainability is a sovereign issue, which should not be a concern to other countries. Our cooperation with China is and has always been on the basis of win-win and mutual trust,” he said.
China’s Global Times propaganda outlet celebrated the meeting with African nations on Tuesday.
“China-Africa trade increased 3 percent year-on-year to $84.8 billion in the first five months of the year, and China’s direct investment to Africa surged 20 percent year-on-year to $1.5 billion, Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming said at a press conference after the meeting on Tuesday,” the Times noted. “Qian said that efforts to implement the eight major initiatives proposed during the Beijing Summit are yielding results that are benefiting people on both sides.”
The Times cited Chinese experts who also warned against unnamed “outside forces” that “have maliciously slandered” Belt and Road by exposing how it jeopardizes national sovereignty. It cites African leaders who defend Belt and Road from accusations of colonialism.
“A colonial power would occupy a country and seek to direct its institutions of governance and business. There’s been no such practice by China and it can only be [coming from] those who envy the cooperative relationship,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, told the Chinese newspaper. “China has never sought to occupy any African country, and its interest has been developing partnerships which seek to address the key priorities of African countries.”
Zimbabwe does appear to be attempting to protect itself from a Chinese takeover by trying to expand its share of the Chinese market, not merely import engineering expertise. China’s Xinhua quotes Zimbabwean officials who say they are looking to sell their crops, namely tobacco and citrus, in China.
Zimbabwe also launched a tourism project with China this year, despite the volatile political situation in the country that has not fully calmed since the military removed longtime dictator Robert Mugabe in 2017. The “Tour Africa-New Horizon” BRI project aimed at bringing more Chinese people into the country.
In January, when Zimbabwe announced the project, deadly protests against President Emmerson Mnangagwa were engulfing Harare over a government decree that made Zimbabwe’s the highest gas prices in the world. Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira said in January that Zimbabwe sought to attract 350 Chinese tourists a month beginning in March.