Zimbabwe’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and International Trade Frederick Shava will pay an official visit to China from May 27 to June 2. Naturally, the MFA is a direct emissary of the president of any country, and Shava’s case is not any different.
Moreover, the fact that Shava doubles up as a foreign and trade minister signifies not only the weighty matters that he will be offloading on his host from President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa but also the trust bestowed in him by his government for the dual role. Experts see the MFA visit as a harbinger of Mnangagwa’s future visit aimed at reducing the president’s load and streamlining the agenda in such an eventuality.
China and Zimbabwe established formal diplomatic relations on April 18, 1980. Incidentally, this is the same day Zimbabwe received its independence. China strongly supported Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence. Over the years, China has given Zimbabwe a shoulder to lean on, particularly in 2003 when the country was ostracized by the European Union (EU) following a standoff on democracy and human rights. Sanctions by the EU led to capital flight and a devastating economic depression in the country.
During Zimbabwe’s woes, China was described as the country’s “only major international supporter”, after the former was abandoned by its erstwhile allies. China helped Zimbabwe to resist interference by external forces and survive the unilateral and illegal sanctions. Moreover, China vetoed the proposed resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2008, the first time China exercised its veto power at the UNSC for an African country.
China has stood steadfastly by its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries in its relations with Zimbabwe. In his speech marking the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 2, 2022, Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun reiterated the close friendship between the two countries, noting that they have had “a long tradition of mutual assistance in times of need”.
True to its unwavering adherence to fairness and justice in the international community, Zimbabwe firmly adheres to the One-China principle and continues to support China’s efforts to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity when necessary. The two countries have jointly opposed hegemony, power politics and unilateralism.
It follows naturally that China has been the biggest beneficiary of Zimbabwe’s “Look East” foreign policy by expanding bilateral and trade relations and attracting investors from the second-largest economy in the world. Following this policy, Chinese investments in the country increased tremendously from 2009 to 2013, making Zimbabwe one of Africa’s largest recipients of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
According to the South African Institute of International Affairs, annual FDI from China increased from U.S. Dollars 11.2 million in 2009, to U.S. Dollars 602 million in 2013. The finances were invested mainly in mining, agriculture and manufacturing. In total, Chinese companies invested an estimated U.S. Dollars 1.3 billion.
Trade between Zimbabwe and China surged 29.2 per cent year-on-year to a record high of U.S. Dollars 2.43 billion in 2022. Zimbabwe exported U.S. Dollars 1.3 billion worth of goods to China and imported U.S. Dollars 1.13 billion worth of goods from China. China invests mainly in its partner’s infrastructure sector and mining industry and imports tobacco leaf, processed tobacco, ferroalloys and chromium ore from the country.
Major Chinese-funded infrastructural projects in Zimbabwe’s public sector include the National Pharmaceutical Warehouse, the 1,000 Borehole Project, and the New Parliament Building. The Kariba South Hydro Power Station Expansion, Hwange Thermal Power Station Expansion, Victoria Falls International Airport Upgrading, Expansion and Upgrading of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport and Netone broadband construction were also implemented with China’s support. These projects have had a major impact on the country’s economic development and improved the citizens’ livelihoods.
The signing of the Protocol of Phytosanitary Requirements for the Export of Zimbabwean Fresh Citrus to China in 2021 has promoted Zimbabwe’s agricultural products. The policy established “green lanes” for Zimbabwean agricultural products into the Chinese market, marking a breakthrough in China’s policy supports in assisting Zimbabwe’s economic development.
The two countries have expanded people-to-people exchanges in various areas including education and culture, and cooperated in their political parties and parliaments. These initiatives have enhanced Zimbabwe’s human development, ensuring that the country has sufficient capacity to manage and promote the country’s growing social and economic development.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and Cyclone Idai in March 2019 which left 340 people dead and affected 270,000 people, China swiftly mobilized resources and provided massive assistance to the Zimbabwean people. Chinese communities in Zimbabwe have also been involved in corporate social responsibility initiatives by building schools, roads, clinics and wells for local communities, in addition to supporting underprivileged students and helping vulnerable groups.
At a multilateral level, Zimbabwe is a member of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation and the African Union, both of which are close cooperators with China. Infrastructural development under the Belt and Road Initiative has also become the cornerstone of China-Zimbabwe cooperation, placing the latter squarely in the international trade infrastructural system.
Zimbabwe has been a villain to the West for many years. The country’s former president, the late Robert Mugabe, was an avowed Pan-Africanist. To the West, this is synonymous with defiance. Amid blackmail, economic sabotage and other forms of coercive diplomacy, Mugabe refused to kowtow to the West’s selfish demands.
One of the major conflicts between the West and Zimbabwe was the seizing of land from white settlers, and its reallocation to indigenous Zimbabweans as part of a wide-ranging land reform program. The international press took the opportunity to entrench their branding of Mugabe as a socialist and a Black Marxist.
The Zimbabwe African National Union and the Communist Party of China are kindred souls. Both parties have resisted oppression from any major country or bloc and have protected their people amid great pressure and intimidation. Mugabe’s fearless face-off with the West, and the EU in particular, definitely set a “bad example” to the rest of the African countries colonized by the West. As long-distance comrades, amiable and successful relations between China and Zimbabwe will have a ripple effect that will positively influence developments far and wide.