China Weds Africa

Published on 25th April 2006

In January China announced its desire to increase cooperation with African countries by issuing China’s African Policy, a paper intended to guide relations with the continent by continuing a non-interventionist, non-ideological strategy. Christopher Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwean Ambassador to China, shares his views of the policy with Chinafrica reporter Ni Yanshuo and answers criticisms of the China-Africa relationship by Western countries that tie cooperation to democracy and human rights.


Q: The Chinese Government issued China’s Africa Policy early this year. Zimbabwe is an important country in Africa for China. What are your thoughts on Sino-Zimbabwean cooperation in recent years?


A: It has been 20 years since China opened up. China is transforming once again into one of the top economic and commercial powers of the world. This has ushered in so much hope. This new wave of opportunity is now sweeping into Africa, a continent that has always been considered a laggard.


China’s economic rise and that of other emergent economies in Asia and elsewhere are opening up new avenues that can lead Africa out of the poverty trap onto vistas of much needed development. Zimbabwe’s chosen path of economic development now faces much brighter prospects of success. That is so because the stranglehold of once omnipotent vested interests is loosening and a more open and competitive business environment is taking center stage in world economic affairs.


Zimbabwe intends to take, and is indeed taking, full advantage of this more benign world economic climate to find its rightful place among its various international cooperating partners. President Robert Mugabe was quite eloquent about this issue during the biennial China-Africa Cooperation Summit of Addis Ababa in 2003. His visionary speech is now resonating as the pace of Africa’s trade with China is turning into a gallop with multi-billion dollar deals making it to news headlines.


In more specific terms, we anticipate to have more Chinese participation in the mining industry that is rich in platinum, gold, diamonds, coal, ferrochrome, nickel, methane gas, etc. china is now easily the major market for these minerals.


Already our commercial aviation sector is breaking into new commuter flight paths with the Chinese MA60 plane from Xi’an Aircraft Industries. Our city and country roads have spanking new passenger buses from FA, Changchum. New farmers who benefited from the land reform are tilling with tractors from Weifang and Tianjin. Electric switchgear from Shanghai lightens up homes and factories. Shenzhen-made telecommunications hardware helps keep Zimbabweans in touch. Yet, this is just the beginning. Stay tuned. There is more to come.


Q: The agriculture sector is a major cooperation sector between China and Zimbabwe and this sector is specifically mentioned in the new policy. How do you think cooperation in this sector should develop in the future?


A: There is a lot of cooperation in the agriculture sector since we are going through our land reforms. Thanks to these reforms. We Zimbabweans are now the masters of our country completely. We can now open up to everybody.


China supplies the cheapest agricultural equipment. Because of China’s low-cost and best agricultural infrastructure, Zimbabwe agriculture can have a lower-cost entry into the international market than before. If we buy from Europe, it will be much more expensive. With the same amount of money, we can buy two or three tractors from China while previously we could only buy one tractor from Europe.


I see the future of cooperation in the agricultural sector as very bright. China is growing fast economically. With its people becoming more prosperous, their consumption patterns are changing. We are cooperating with Chinese marketing companies and can also open new markets for our products. We have taken note of the fact that the World Food Program has closed its office in Beijing because China no longer has need for their services. We want to take a leaf from this spectacular success in eradicating hunger. We hope the World Food Program office in Harare will also close its doors in the near future.


We also see a bright future for China’s tobacco cooperation with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector is very important and is the main source of Chinese cigarettes. China is the biggest market for leaf tobacco. Zimbabwe’s tobacco is used in China’s most expensive cigarettes, such as Hongtashan. So, the cooperation in this sector is bound to grow.


Q: How do you think Sino-African cooperation will develop with the recent China’s African Policy?


A: Home to one third of humanity, China has a huge appetite for energy, commodities and minerals. Africa has a lot in this respect. It is heartening to see the prospect of an energy rich Nigeria attaining the reality of a viable oil refinery for its vast number of Africans. Resource-rich Angola in desperate need of post-war reconstruction would soon see its railways back in operation. The bountiful copper and cobalt riches of Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo are on a new road that will open up Africa’s interior. These few examples have one common thread: China needs the resources and it is prepared to work with Africans as unfettered free economic agents in the development of their resources.


A similar picture is emerging in agricultural development. China’s preponderant role in the fiber and textile industry is aiding a new equable world consensus on the vexed issue of cotton trade. With America finally abandoning the contentious subsidies to its large-scale cotton farmers, there will be huge gains for Africa as its more efficient producers work hard to increase the 400,000 tons share of cotton export to China in 2005. China’s growing middle class is changing its clothing taste in favor of natural fiber. This development will have a positive impact on a wide swath of sub- Saharan Africa. For many of the people there, cotton cultivation is the only sure ticket to survival and world economic interaction.


China has also offered tariff-free entry for goods from the poorest African countries. This is a gesture that will need to be emulated by the well-off economic powers.


Q: According to the latest policy initiative, China will “establish and develop a new type of strategic partnership with Africa, featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchange.” What do you think of this type of strategic partnership?


A: As a pan-Africanist, I take offence when certain quarters in the West try to depict China as a new colonial power in Africa. One would hope that such wayward thinkers would read their own history with Africa and come out with less-muddled thinking. China has no advantage of the Maxim gun or spear-wielding Africa warriors to impose its will. It has no state paraphernalia to maintain colonial order on the continent. These are the basic attributes of coercion by a colonial or neo-colonial power and Beijing is way short on any of them.


It’s our rights, the rights of China and the rights of Africa, to choose our partners. And nobody in Europe or in America should try to judge that relationship.


Q: As an African, what is your understanding of China’s African Policy?


A: China’s African Policy is mutually respectful. With China becoming a commercial and technological power, our relationship takes a new dimension. The policy indicates China’s capability to help Africa touch new heights. It also means Africa’s ability to choose international players as its partners is increased. This is what we see as the real big benefit of china’s opening up and reform in the last 20 years.


China’s African Policy is a very progressive policy that respects the wills of Africa. China fully believes in the diversity of human society.


Q: What do you think of the role of the Forum on China-Africa cooperation?


A: This forum created a fair environment for African ministers to exchange views with their Chinese counterparts. Africans can also show China Africa’s vast potential. China has the market, technology and financial resources. We can see that in a very short period, trade between China and Africa has doubled. Before, this took about two years but now we have done it in 18 months. The next time it may take just 12 months or even six months.


The scope of the forum is very big. Many African people are going to China for education. With more Africans going to China, they also see the opportunities there. This is possible under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.


This forum is one of the most important vehicles in cooperation between the two sides. Now, it bears something new. It can give competition to Europe. We need a business mode that benefits all parties. Africa wants to bring everybody on the dance floor of its economic and business affairs so all can choose to partner as they wish.


From CHINAFRICA vol 6, March 16 2006 published by BEIJING REVIEW


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