Own Correspondent|Zimbabwe has finally been dragged into accepting the highly criticised Chinese funding model of poor countries known as the Belt And Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an enormous international investment project was touted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, in late 2013 to establish Chinese soft power around the world.
Beijing has poured nearly $700 billion worth of Chinese money into more than sixty countries much of it in the form of large-scale infrastructure projects and loans to governments that would otherwise struggle to pay for them.
The idea is to draw these countries closer to Beijing while boosting Chinese soft power abroad.
Today, however, China faces a backlash to BRI at home and abroad.
Many Chinese complain of the initiative’s wasteful spending. Internationally, some of the backlash is geopolitical, as countries grow wary of Beijing’s growing influence. But much of it is simply political.
Unlike Western lenders, China does not require its partners to meet stringent conditions related to corruption, human rights, or financial sustainability. This no-strings approach to investment has fueled corruption while allowing governments to burden their countries with unpayable debts. And citizens of many BRI countries have reacted with anger toward China—an anger that is now making itself felt in elections.
Far from expanding Chinese soft power, the BRI appears to be achieving the opposite.
“The overall purpose of the Belt and Road initiative is to generate legitimacy for the Chinese leadership and the Chinese Communist Party more broadly,” said Thomas Eder, a research associate at the Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies.
“Such prestige is bolstered by every government signing a BRI memorandum of understanding and every head of government attending a grand BRI summit in Beijing. These countries allow Xi Jinping to then tell Chinese citizens that the entire world is endorsing his policies and that he is the one to have put China firmly back at the centre of the global stage,” Eder said.
Zimbabwe in a desperate move to make President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government look active has handed over several key national projects to China under the initiative.
Funding for all the projects will be provided under the this very controversial Chinese foreign policy programme, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
The projects are the long-waited construction of Kunzvi Dam, Harare-Chirundu highway, refurbishment of Sable Chemicals fertiliser plant, rehabilitation of Harare’s water system, a power transmission arrangement and export of citrus to China
China is expected to provide concessionary loans for Kunzvi Dam, the Harare-Chirundu Highway and the Sable Chemicals fertiliser plant.
On the citrus exports, the Asian giant will facilitate the access of markets and removal of impediments to trade while financial facilities will be provided for Harare’s Morton Jaffray.
Under the power transmission deal, an arrangement has been made to ensure adequate supply of electricity to the New Parliament Building in Mt Hampden to guarantee smooth development of the new city.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail, China’s chief envoy to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Guo Shaochun, said following high-level talks that Minister Wang held with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Acting President General Constantino Chiwenga and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo, Harare and Beijing agreed to set up teams from both countries to immediately start working on the projects.