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China is the partner of choice for Africa

By Sibusiso Moyo | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-14 09:11
Photo taken on June 29, 2018 shows an aerial view of the site of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. [Photo/VCG]

There is a debate among geopolitical commentators about the merits and even the intentions of Chinese engagement in Africa. Some suggest the Chinese seek to undermine democracy; others accuse China of saddling the continent with decades of debt that can't be repaid; few seem to believe that China genuinely has the interests of Africa at heart.

And almost no one in the international community cares to seek the views of Africans themselves.

In the case of Zimbabwe, it cannot be disputed that China has been a strong and true friend over many decades.

In the late 1970s, China was a key supporter of the protracted liberation war in Zimbabwe, which ended in April 1980.

Post-independence, Chinese support across all sectors of economic and social development has been generous and consistent.

This hardly chimes with the narrative suggesting that China is seeking to impose its own identity and its own form of governance upon African nations. I am not aware of any single example-save, perhaps, in the minds of anti-Chinese, largely Western, policymakers-where China has imposed itself, its philosophy or its system of governance on any African nation.

Over the past 40 years, in full alignment with the Charter of the United Nations, China has resolutely adhered to a policy of "noninterference" in the domestic affairs of other countries. China's strategic focus has been one of trade facilitation and investment in essential infrastructure projects, an area shunned, until relatively recently, by Western cooperation partners and development institutions.

China has also placed high priority on education and health sector partnerships with African countries, including Zimbabwe.

A key aspect of China's relationship with Zimbabwe as well as with all African countries is that its engagement comes without political conditions.

China's intensified focus on Africa, especially since the launch of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and its evolving synergy with Africa's own continental development blueprint, the African Union's Agenda 2063, has, in a sense, "democratized" foreign direct investment by affording African nations a far wider range of options, boosting FDI inflows into African countries.

India, South Korea, Turkey and Russia, among others, have developed their own Africa-focused partnership forums, all aimed at advancing Africa's development and integration agenda while, at the same time, seeking investment and trade opportunities for their respective private and state companies across all sectors.

Other key cooperation partners, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have recalibrated their Africa-focused initiatives to incorporate support for infrastructure development, with the UK announcing that after Brexit, it aspires to overtake the US as the G7's top investor in Africa by 2022.

Some may view the statements of intent by other nations as some form of challenge to China's position as the No 1 investor in Africa. There is more than enough room in Zimbabwe and across the continent to accommodate all who, like China, seek genuine and mutually beneficial partnerships.

For the newer entrants and those who have recently woken up to the enormous potential, it is clear they face an uphill task in seeking to replicate or attain the levels of Chinese engagement or infrastructure investment. That engagement has been in place for a generation or more and, as the visit of State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi so clearly illustrates, is set for further expansion and acceleration.

Contrast this with our friends in the West, who continue the "carrot and stick" approach, undermining their stated intent of more trade and investment by keeping in place what they euphemistically refer to as "restrictive measures" (sanctions), effectively deterring trade and investment and depriving their own companies of lucrative opportunities in Zimbabwe.

The best partnerships are found through mutual self-interest. Each should recognize and respect the other's sovereignty.

As first among equals, with a long and uninterrupted history of genuine friendship, it is clear that China will continue to be the partner of choice for Africa because it understands and respects the continent.

The author is Zimbabwe's minister for foreign affairs and international trade. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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