The Herald (Harare)

25 May 2013

Zimbabwe: Why PM Dislikes Chinese VP's Visit

opinion

The official visit this week by the People's Republic of China Vice Premier Wang Yang is a demonstration of the strong relations between the Government of Zimbabwe and China.

VP Wang became the first high-level Chinese government official to visit Zimbabwe since President Xi Jinping took over from President Hu Jintao in March.

His visit is also in keeping with China's Africa policy, which was laid out by President Xi when he visited Africa in March.

According to VP Wang, China attaches importance to its relations with Zimbabwe and considers Zimbabwe a "good friend, good partner, and good brother". Relations between Zimbabwe and China date back to Zimbabwe's liberation struggle where China rendered material and moral support.

Not only have Zimbabwe and China remained all-weather friends, but in the post-colonial era, the two nations have taken their friendship to higher levels with bilateral trade between the two nations steadily rising.

Thus the Chinese VP arrived against the backdrop of growing economic ties between the two countries.

In 2012, bilateral trade exceeded US$1 billion while China has become Zimbabwe's top investor, together with South Africa and the European Union.

China's investments are in mining, agriculture, the construction industry and other sectors.

After the imposition of illegal economic sanctions by the West, Zimbabwe adopted a Look East policy, a policy which has not only borne fruit, but which we see being replicated by other nations because China is not only the world's second largest economy, but its fast development cannot be ignored or wished away.

VP Wang's visit is also symbolic because he was in the country when President Mugabe signed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (Number 20) Bill into law. The new constitution will be used in the forthcoming harmonised elections.

It was an historic moment, which we believe gave the Chinese vice premier an understanding of Zimbabwe's socio-economic and political make-up during the life-span of the inclusive Government and beyond.

The Chinese VP also said his country was "willing to strengthen mutual political trust, broaden mutually-beneficiary co-operation, and boost friendly co-operation with Zimbabwe."

It was in this spirit that he met leaders across the political divide and signed a number of bilateral agreements for various socio-economic projects.

The agreements saw China extending a US$36 million dollar loan to Zimbabwe for development projects, an indication of China's willingness to assist.

That some of the money is meant for the drilling of boreholes is important since access to clean water has become one of the major challenges faced by the whole country.

Notwithstanding, we question the implication of some of the remarks made by Prime Minister Tsvangirai when he met VP Wang. He said, "This is not an accusation.

"Yes, we welcome Foreign Direct Investment but we want to maintain acceptable labour practices. There may be one bad in the basket and it may spoil the whole basket".

Was this a diplomatic soft landing that the PM was giving to VP Wang? Why is it that the PM has not talked about labour practices when addressing potential Western investors?

According to the story we carried on Thursday, this is not the first time that the MDC-T has raised the issue.

With China giving their competitors a run for their money, it has become very easy for some people to parrot what the Western media says, instead of seeking to engage the Chinese government and investors.

Maybe the PM could check the on-going discussions regarding the issue of labour practices through the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac), and how the Chinese government is responding to them.

He needs to be reminded that the whole world, including the Western powers, have turned to China, which has emerged as a global economic giant over the past few years, and Zimbabwe's Look East policy was and still remains a step in the right direction.

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