China's finance minister visits Zimbabwe to bolster bonds
Tue, Feb 08, 2011

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visits Zimbabwe on Thursday to buttress ties between the Asian powerhouse which has solidly backed the southern African nation battered by western isolation.

Yang's two-day visit is "to further consolidate bonds and friendships between our two peoples," the Chinese embassy in Harare said.

He is expected to meet President Robert Mugabe and senior government officials but government has not revealed details of the meeting.

"We are confident that after Minister Yang's visit, Sino-Zimbabwe relations will be uplifted to a higher level," ambassador Xin Shunkang told journalists, when announcing Yang's visit.

Yang's visit comes weeks after Zimbabwe's investment promotion minister Tapiwa Mashakada announced plans by China Development Bank to fund investments worth $10 billion (S$12.76 billion) in Zimbabwe's mining, agriculture and infrastructure sectors.

Zimbabwe and China have political ties dating back before Zimbabwe's independence when Beijing provided arms and training to guerrillas fighting British colonial rule.

China has also been pivotal in protecting Zimbabwe at the UN. In 2008 China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution seeking sanctions against Harare.

Chinese construction companies are involved in major projects in Zimbabwe, including the construction of the country's main sports stadium and several government buildings.

Ambassador Xin said Yang's visit at the invitation of his Zimbabwe counterpart was to "show our support to Zimbabwe's justified requests at international arena and exploit and expand our mutually beneficial co-operation."

In 2010 China exported $159 million worth of goods to Zimbabwe, according to the national statistics agency.

"Chinese companies have made inroads in the main sectors of the economy," said Takavafira Zhou, a political scientist from Masvingo State University.

"We maybe apportioning the country to the Chinese companies and regret later. What we are having is Chinese imperialism. The Chinese businesses are killing local companies and unfortunately with the blessing of ZANU-PF," said Zhou, referring to Mugabe's party.

Faced with the crippling western sanctions, Mugabe adopted a "look east" policy, which saw the country receiving loans from a number of eastern nations.

Political commentator Christopher Mutsvangwa said Yang's impending visit was an affirmation of burgeoning ties.

"The political bond is now taking an economic dimension as China is looking at business opportunities in Zimbabwe," Mutsvangwa, a former ambassador to China, said.

In recent years, Chinese traders have moved into shops previously left empty at the height of the country's economic crisis. But Asians have been criticised for flooding the local market with cheap-quality imports, derisively referred to as "zhingzhong" which have been blamed for putting locals out of business.

"Mugabe has stated several times that he was looking east in terms of investment...perhaps China can fill a void where the west has left gaps," said Sanusha Naidu, research director for emerging powers in Africa Initiative for Fahamu, a human rights and social justice advocacy group.

"China is also looking at resources that Zimbabwe has. The visit could be also about looking at the other actors in the Zimbabwe economy in terms of how Chinese investors compete with South African and Indian investors," Naidu said.

Sanne van der Lugt, a research analyst at the Centre for Chinese Studies at South Africa's Stellenbosch University, said China is one of Zimbabwe's few remaining friends.

Zimbabwe's economy is recovering from a decade long political crisis which paralysed the economy and shut down industries. The crisis ended with a shaky powersharing government between Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

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