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    Zimbabweans watch a televised address to the nation by President Robert Mugabe at a bar in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017

    Zimbabwe Seeks Closer Ties With China to Offset Western Sanctions, Debt

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Zimbabwe has a lot at stake as its President Emmerson Mnangagwa navigates his first official visit to China, since Beijing may become the savior of the country deep in debt and barred from many other loan opportunities, experts told Sputnik.

    Before this week's visit began, Mnangagwa told the Xinhua news agency that he would be seeking deeper economic ties with China. The financial boost would be particularly welcome in the country that is billions of dollars in debt and under Western sanctions.

    Deep in Debt

    Cooperation between China and Zimbabwe is "central" to the well-being of the African country, Nicole Beardsworth, politics and international studies professor at the University of Warwick, told Sputnik.

    "Zimbabwe is currently unable to access international credit due to $1.8 billion in arrears to the World Bank and [African Development Bank] AFDB," Beardsworth explained.

    READ MORE: Former Zimbabwe President Calls for Reversal of Coup

    In fact, Zimbabwean media reported last week that Zimbabwe had secured $1.2 billion to pay the World Bank. Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa did not disclose the source of the money, other than to indicate that it was a commercial loan.

    At the same time, Chinamasa said the money would be transferred after the World Bank has determined the amount of additional funding it would give to Zimbabwe.

    Sanctions

    Cooperation with China remains essential as Zimbabwe's opportunities have been restricted by sanctions for years, according to experts.

    "The cooperation is quite critical to the survival of Zimbabwe, as you are aware that Zimbabwe has been under sanctions from the West dating back as far as 1997 and cooperating with countries in the East has been the survival strategy of Zimbabwe ever since," Professor Percyslage Chigora, a lecturer in politics and public management at the Midlands State University, told Sputnik.

    China has already helped Zimbabwe by boosting agriculture, energy, transport and infrastructure, according to Chigora.

    "As long as the sanctions from the West continues the East particularly China remains the pillar of support for economic growth and development in Zimbabwe," the scholar from the Midlands State University said.

    Dr. Chipo Dendere, visiting an assistant professor of political science at Amherst College, pointed out that China and Russia, unlike Europe, did not want to postpone their financial aid until after "a successful free and fair election."

    Mnangagwa, who came to power in November last year after his predecessor Robert Mugabe resigned, in December urged the Western countries to lift sanctions off Zimbabwean elites, introduced over alleged violations of human rights and undermining of democracy.

    READ MORE: Zimbabwean Opposition Leader Tsvangirai Dies in South Africa — Reports

    Restoration of Ties

    China and Zimbabwe's ruling party ZANU-PF had a strong relationship until a downturn in 2016, when the administration of Mugabe revoked mining licenses of Chinese companies, barring their access to Marange diamond fields, Beardsworth said.

    "So Mnangagwa's trip to China is a mending of relations between the two, and he will be eager to assert the policy predictability of the new administration in Harare. We expect that relations between the two will strengthen on the back of this visit, and greater economic cooperation will be the highlight," the expert said.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that the two countries should strive for a new phase in relations. However, according to Dendere, "the real test is if China will bring more money into Zim."

    Mutual Gains

    Both countries can win from cooperation, as China might want access to Zimbabwe's mineral and agricultural resources, Chigora said.

    "Zimbabwe has also growing service industry in which the Chinese can invest to boost their economy to include the tourism sector, information and communication technology, etc," the expert said.

    China might want to invest in infrastructure, too, according to Dendere. The expert cited the example of the Kariba dam, being upgraded on a $319-million loan from China. The loan will help expand Kariba's hydropower station.

    The views and opinions expressed by experts do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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