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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 26, June 18, 2011

China-Zimbabwe Relations

Monday 20 June 2011, by Gunjan Singh


The Chinese Government’s need for regular flow of resources and energy is quite vital for its sustainability. This is also because economic development is quite crucial for its survival and also maintaining peace and order in the country. With the erosion of ideological support the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today is dependent on continued economic growth in order to gain legitimacy to be power.

The heavy emphasis on economic growth is a very important factor behind the major Chinese inroads in Africa where the Chinese Government was involved in a number of bi-lateral deals, especially with respect to energy sources and raw materials. The Chinese Government has used its unlimited capital resources in a number of instances to buy some important resource sectors. These very policies lead to the debate around the term Beijing Consensus which was used in contrast to the Washington Consensus. China has also been criticised in the international forays for being involved with countries who are seen as major violators of international norms and human rights.

This foreign policy approach has become an important characteristic of Chinese diplomacy. Its need for energy has made China pretty desperate when it comes to going against the international opinion. The most recent example of this is the deal which China is working towards concluding with Zimbabwe. It is believed that the Chinese Government feels that as the Zimbabwean economy is in need of money, it can use its capital power to literally buy off major platinum mining rights. It is expected that Beijing will be paying the Mugabe regime $ 3 billion for this privilege. China is also expected to invest a total of $ 10 billion in the Zimbabwean economy. There is a huge criticism of this deal within Zimbabwe as the people believe that China is paying $ 3 billion in order to get access to platinum worth $ 40 billion. There is also the constant perception that this deal will not benefit the people as the Mugabe regime will be the one benefiting from this deal.

Another interesting fact is that this deal is being undertaken prior to the scheduled next elections in Zimbabwe which could definitely help the Mugabe Government. China has been a long time ally of Mugabe and even helped the party with arms and training during the independence struggle in the 1980s. China has also used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block sanctions against the Mugabe regime which is not viewed in positive light by the Western world. During his recent visit the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, said that “China is ready to work with Zimbabwe to further enhance political mutual trust, expand mutually beneficial cooperation and steadily elevate our friendship and cooperation”. He also added that China views Zimbabwe as an important strategic partner in South Africa. There were also calls by the Chinese Foreign Minister urging the West to lift the existing sanctions on Zimbabwe. Chinese President Hu Jintao had defined the relationship as ‘unshakeable’. In the year 2010 both the countries had celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations.

CHINESE companies are involved in major infrastructural projects in Zimbabwe. In addition to this Beijing has also been investing money in the form of foreign aid in schools, hospitals and other sectors which would help to stabilise the country. The existing coalition between the Zanu-PF (Mugabe) and Tsvangirai (Movement for Democratic Change) is not strong and the dispute related to the selling of mining rights to China can lead to the breakdown of this coalition and a return to political chaos.

What is interesting with respect to this deal is the question of the future of China-Zimbabwe relations. Due to the existing political coalition in Zimbabwe this particular deal will require the permission of the MDC section and is not confined to Mugabe’s wishes only. If the MDC rejects this deal then it may give birth to
some frictions in the China-Zimbabwe bilateral relations. On the other hand if the MDC accepts this deal, then it will give a very wrong impression to the people just prior to the elections. The difference of approach towards the Chinese aid and money investment in Zimbabwe has given rise to an alternate voice within the country.

Biti, who is the Finance Minister under the coalition, says: “We do business with all who want to have a mutual partnership and relationship, even with China, but we have observed with a lot of concern that a partnership between the Zanu-PF and certain people in China doesn’t necessarily benefit the Zimbabwean people.”

It appears that with the change in the ruling party in the coming elections the Chinese Government will have to work towards wooing a new ally. If the Zanu-PF loses the next elections and if the MDC comes to power, then Beijing will have to rework its strategy in order to keep the relations going. What is clear from these developments is the fact that for the Chinese Government what is essential is the supply of resources. They will try and work towards cooperating with the MDC if it secures majority in order to gain access to the resources. While on the other hand there are reports which suggest that Beijing has been interacting with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is believed to be the successor of Mugabe within the party.

This behaviour of China is driven by its energy requirements. It also highlights that China is ready and willing to deal with any form of government or party when it comes to securing its sources of energy. This foreign policy stand is driven primarily from the fact that the domestic stability of China is dependent on its economic growth. If the government fails to meet the requirements of the development of the economy, it might lead to major problems within the country. In order to maintain peace and stability, Beijing has been willing to face inter-national criticism.

The author belongs to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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