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Chinese Help Is No Debt Trap
How Zimbabwe will grow from bilateral cooperation with China
  ·  2019-08-19  ·   Source: NO. 34 AUGUST 22, 2019

Zimbabwean Vice President Kembo Mohadi

Diplomatic ties between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Zimbabwe were established 39 years ago, when Zimbabwe became independent. However, the relationship between the two countries is much older, going back to the early 1960s. This bond has been strengthening and in April 2018, the official ties were upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership. On his recent visit to China, Zimbabwean Vice President Kembo Mohadi spoke to Beijing Review about how his country will grow from the relationship. This is an edited excerpt from the interview:

Beijing Review: How does Zimbabwe plan to take the relationship in trade and cooperation further?

Kembo Mohadi: We would want the relationship to focus on the industrialization of Zimbabwe and economic development in all spheres. We want to enhance trade transactions between the two countries.

We have got a lot of agricultural produce and we hope to trade with China because China has a huge market. China also has the industrial expertise to turn things around. We want to take a leaf [out of China's book] by inviting their companies to come to Zimbabwe so that we can industrialize in areas [where] we need industrialization—[in] manufacturing and mining as well as beneficiation of the minerals we produce—and trade them with China.

We need to industrialize our agricultural sector and process our minerals. For example, with coal, we can beneficiate it and export the byproduct so [that] we can earn much-needed foreign currency. There is no country that can live without foreign currency. So that will enhance our gross domestic product.

The Victoria Falls International Airport, which was given a makeover by a Chinese company (CHEN YAQIN)

How can Zimbabwe benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative?

The Belt and Road Initiative is a very lucrative initiative that focuses on infrastructure construction, like the development of our road and rail networks and our ports, so we can export from the inland to other countries, including China. The development of any country cannot come about without accessibility, and accessibility comes through road and rail networks. Zimbabwe has very good rail and road networks but they need to be upgraded because in the future, we will transport a lot of bulk goods and I don't think the narrow rail gauge that we have is suitable.

This infrastructure will not only benefit Zimbabwe, but it will also link us with Central and East Africa and many other regions. So the Belt and Road Initiative is very important for the development of Zimbabwe in particular, and also the development of Africa in general.

What can Zimbabwe offer in the form of value-added exports?

We specialize in a lot of agricultural produce in Zimbabwe, such as tobacco, soybean and cotton, which need to be beneficiated so that we can export the finished products to China. This way, we can industrialize and add value to our products. This would mean earning more revenue, which is not the case when exporting raw material. So industrialization is very important.

How do you factor China in your tourism development plan?

We need to make Zimbabwe better known to the general Chinese public. We believe that given the number of Chinese people, we can be in a position to attract [more] visitors. For example, last year, we upgraded the Chinese visa requirements to Category B, which means now the Chinese can get their visa at the ports of entry in Zimbabwe. So they don't have to apply for [a visa] before they leave their country.

We recently had a delegation of more than 300 Chinese who visited Zimbabwe [on a fact-finding mission]. They were very happy to experience life in Zimbabwe, especially the wildlife. So we hope to increase the number of Chinese visitors and in return earn much-needed foreign currency. Quite a number of economies around the world are sustained by tourism.

Tourism is something that we can develop and we can also invite the Chinese to invest in. We have designated the Victoria Falls area as a special economic zone. The whole waterfront from the A'Zambezi Resort going upstream has been designated as an economic zone and the master plan is already in place. We are planning to have seven-star hotels built there and a world-class golf course. So we hope the Chinese can come and invest in these projects.

[Boosting tourism] means our people will get employment. As more people get employment, they will have more disposable income, which means our taxable base will broaden and contribute to the growth of the GDP. If everything goes according to plan, by 2030 Zimbabwe would be a middle-income economy. That's what we are looking at and we are open for business.

Some Western media have called Chinese investments in Africa a "debt trap." What's your view on that?

If the Chinese people and government had that kind of intention, they would have long back asked us to pay back what we owe them. During our liberation struggle, China helped us; they trained us, clothed and fed us, all for free. How can someone say now [that] we are in a "debt trap?"

The "debt trap" is in the West with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank because once you are indebted to [these organizations], you can never get out. These media are trying to detract [from] the Chinese people having a positive influence in Africa. So [this criticism] is a scarecrow, wanting to scare [the Chinese] from Zimbabwe in particular, and Africa in general.

There is no "debt trap." If that had been the case, they would not have stood by us during our times of need. China is a friend, especially when we need them most.

At the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Beijing last year, the Chinese Government pledged eight major initiatives to promote China-Africa cooperation. Which initiatives are the most important to Zimbabwe?

Well, they are all important, but let me zero in on one. We have to industrialize because industrialization is the key to development. We have got a city like Bulawayo [in western Zimbabwe], which used to be the hub of industries just like Johannesburg is the hub of South African industries. We need to revive that. We need to industrialize to make sure that whatever we mine or produce is actually beneficiated.

We have talked about the Belt and Road Initiative, which focuses on infrastructure construction like roads, bridges, railways and ports, which facilitates our exports. We can do that only with the assistance of our [Chinese] friends. So industrialization is the first thing we need to put in place to turn our economy around.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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