China’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Guo Shaochun
THE INTERVIEW KUDA BWITITI
China’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Guo Shaochun, officially presented his credentials to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in March this year. Last week Ambassador Gou (AG) held his first exclusive interview since he started his official duty. Below is the full interview which he held with our Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi (KB) to unpack relations between Harare and Beijing.
KB: Before you came to Zimbabwe, what had been your perception of the country and what is your perception now?
AG: Before I came, I was fully aware that Zimbabwe is an important partner of China and we enjoy a time-honoured friendship.
Since my arrival, I have been deeply impressed by the beautiful scenery, pleasant climate of Zimbabwe and hospitality of the local people. I am especially moved by the friendly sentiments Zimbabwean people have for China.
What I admire most is Zimbabwe’s spirit of pursuing national independence. As a true friend, true brother and true partner of Zimbabwe, China is positive in supporting Zimbabwe to realise its economic prosperity and durable peace and stability. Zimbabwe must be treated fairly and respectfully by all the countries of the world. We will continue to speak up for Zimbabwe.
KB: There has been much talk on the so- called “mega deals” between Zimbabwe and China. Can you give us a breakdown of implementation of the deals?
AG: Last year, His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa visited China twice and both our top leaders agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Zimbabwe. A series of agreements have been signed to advance our practical cooperation.
One of them is the Victoria Falls International Airport Expansion Project. This project was completed by November 2015 and has since increased the airport’s passenger handling capacity to around 1,5 million a year. New air routes have been opened and connected to the Victoria Falls which has solidified its status as a regional aviation and tourism hub.
The Kariba South Hydropower Station Extension Project was successfully commissioned in March 2018. It has added 300MW to the national grid.
The Hwange Power Plant is another very important project in the power generation area. The construction was started last year and is now well underway. It will take 42 months to complete and will create 3 000 jobs for the local people.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport Expansion Project and the New Parliament building project have also taken off. The Parliament building is a free aid project by the Chinese government.
These major projects serve as boosts for the economic and social development of Zimbabwe. It is common sense that a country needs a huge amount of capital and a series of infrastructure construction in its economic take-off and early stage of industrialisation. What I want to emphasise in particular is that there has never been any political strings attached to our assistance. It was, is, and will be our consistent principle.
A minister of the Zimbabwean Government told me that some countries complained to him why your Government gave all those infrastructure projects to China? The minister replied that because China is the only country that is available to us. That answer is simple, frank and true.
KB: Are there any new “mega deals” that we can expect to be signed between Zimbabwe and China?
AG: We are encouraging Chinese investors to come to make investment in Zimbabwe. A few days ago, I attended the opening ceremony of the brick and tile manufacturing plant in Gweru, invested by Sino Zimbabwe Cement Company, which produces 60 million bricks each year with a capacity to increase to 100 million for domestic sales and export.
Actually, we have already had a very good foundation in the investment area. Let me give you two examples: The Tianze Tobacco Company invested in Zimbabwe in 2005 when the Zimbabwean tobacco industry was in a very poor situation. Through the“contract farming programmes”and purchase of tobacco from the local auction place, it is now the single biggest buyer of Zimbabwe tobacco, with the total purchase accounting for half of the total local tobacco production. Last year, tobacco production hit a record high. The company has only seven employees from China and the rest are Zimbabweans.
The other example is Beiqi Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd, which were formed by Beijing Automotive Group Co. Ltd (BAIC Group) and two Zimbabwean companies in March 2017. Last year, as trial production, the company assembled 180 cars in Zimbabwe. And they have established a 24-hour parts distribution network in Zimbabwe. It will further improve its services and inject more vitality into the development of the Zimbabwe automotive industry.
We are encouraging Chinese enterprises and capital to invest more in manufacturing, agriculture and light industry in Zimbabwe. These sectors are characterised by sustainability and a moderate scale of investment, which can quickly create jobs for local people and meet market demand of Zimbabwe, while helping Zimbabwe to save or even earn foreign exchange.
Of course, we also support China’s enterprises to invest in Zimbabwe’s large-scale infrastructure construction such as power generation and water supply in accordance with market rules.
In the meantime, we expect the Zimbabwean Government to introduce more policies that are conducive to business in the aspects of land use, tax exemption for import of equipment or spare parts for investment purposes and the arrangement of use of foreign currency.
Tourism cooperation can become another new “mega deal” between China and Zimbabwe. For many years, the annual figure of Chinese outbound tourists has exceeded 130 million. If 1 percent or even 0,1 percent of them travel to Zimbabwe, it’s a huge market for Zimbabwe, which means huge business opportunities and a large number of new jobs.
KB: Some people like to compare Chinese-funded projects in other African countries which are much greater than projects in Zimbabwe. What is your message to those who think that this means Zimbabwe is less important?
AG: There is no need to compare which project is bigger, what is most important is the needs and specific demands of a country. For Zimbabwe the most urgent is to recover its manufacturing system. It would be helpful for Zimbabwe to improve its ability to build more and bigger infrastructure projects in the future.
KB: What are the latest statistics on trade between Zimbabwe and China and is it benefiting both countries?
AG: The statistics on trade between Zimbabwe and China in 2018 is US$1,3 billion, with China importing US$890 million worth of products and exporting US$445 million worth of products. It shows that you Zimbabwe enjoys a US$445 million trade surplus by trading with China. These numbers are similar every year. China wishes to expand trade scale with Zimbabwe and help Zimbabwe reconstruct its economy.
We hope Zimbabwe can actively participate in the first China-Africa trade expo, which will be held in June in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province. It’s a great opportunity for Zimbabwe to show the advantages of its products to Chinese buyers.
KB: The current friendship between Zimbabwe and China is Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships. Is there scope to elevate the friendship to yet another higher level?
AG: With the guidance of the two leaders, last year our relationship was elevated to Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership. This is a milestone in the development of our relations and practical cooperation. Besides the mega projects I have just outlined, we have provided emergency assistance to help Zimbabwean people who are affected by Cyclone Idai, including the cash donated by the Chinese government. A few weeks ago, we completed the handover of 10 165 tonnes of rice donated by the Chinese government.
There is great potential to explore more possibilities to support Zimbabwe to recover its industry, particularly in the manufacturing sector, like paper making, food processing, textile and car manufacturing. In this way, we can help Zimbabwe to save or even earn more foreign currency which is in high need at the moment. We would also like to encourage more Chinese enterprises to invest in solar power area and to invest in electric cars so as to help Zimbabwe reduce its dependence or consumption on fuel and go green.
We would work with our Zimbabwe counterparts to implement the outcomes of the FOCAC Beijing summit which was successfully held last year where President Mnangagwa attended.
KB: Turning to FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative. What strategies are in place for Zimbabwe to benefit from these initiatives?
AG: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) raised by China is designed to promote connectivity and common development. The Initiative focuses on policy synergy, infrastructure development, unimpeded trade, financial cooperation and people-to-people bond. We will stay firmly committed to promoting high-quality, results-oriented and practical cooperation.
Last month, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services of Zimbabwe, Mrs Monica Mutsvangwa, attended one of the thematic forums in Beijing with fruitful outcomes.
We are happy to learn that a special unit on BRI has been created under the Office of the President and Cabinet of Zimbabwe. The embassy will establish and strengthen contact and coordination with the unit to enhance our cooperation under BRI and enable Zimbabwe to better benefit from this initiative.
China-Africa cooperation is benefiting from two platforms at the same time through BRI and FOCAC. This is the unique advantage of our bilateral cooperation. These two platforms dock and merge to each other. We will continue to follow the government-guided, business-led and market-driven approach, develop more high-quality projects through bilateral, tripartite and multilateral cooperation, and support the sustainable development of Zimbabwe with concrete outcomes.
Meanwhile, we firmly oppose using state power to suppress international cooperation, intervene in business operations, and distort global markets.
It is precisely based on such ideas and principles that just now I have made a number of concrete suggestions on strengthening cooperation between our two countries in infrastructure, manufacturing, trade and so on.
KB: We understand that there are discussions for Zim to export more horticulture products, including citrus fruits, to China? What is the latest on this?
AG: The embassy has been working hard in this respect because we are very willing to expand the export of Zimbabwe’s agricultural products to China.
Zimbabwe is known for its horticulture industry and the good quality of its fruits like avocado, blueberry, citrus and others. To realise the export of citrus to China, the Chinese government sent a working group to Zimbabwe some time ago and reached initial agreement with the Zimbabwean side.
It is hoped that the Zimbabwe’s products shall meet the technical requirements of inspection and quarantine for imported goods to China.
KB: What are some of the other commodities that China wants to import from Zim?
AG: As I have mentioned, Zimbabwe’s agricultural products such as avocado, citrus, flowers and beef will be loved by Chinese consumers. China is also willing to import mineral products from Zimbabwe according to market rules and on a willing buyer willing seller basis.
KB: There are some efforts by some people to belittle Zimbabwe’s economic cooperation with China. What is your comment?
AG: We noted that a small number of people with ulterior motives have been discrediting such normal trade as looting Zimbabwe’s resources. We hope that the Zimbabwean Government will speak out for foreign investors.
We understand and support the Zimbabwean Government’s endeavor to add value to its mineral products and we encourage Chinese business to invest in this area and build a value chain in Zimbabwe. China is willing to buy more mineral resources in processed forms.
KB: What plans are in place to enhance people-to-people exchanges between Zim and China?
AG: People-to-people exchange certainly is one of the most important pillars of China-Zimbabwe relations. Since my arrival here, I have felt deep enthusiasm and vast potential for deepening such exchanges between our two countries.
We have a Confucious Institute here at the Zimbabwean University(UZ), which enrols hundreds of Zimbabwean students learning Chinese language every year. We have a medical team of 10 Chinese doctors based at Parirenyatwa Hospital performing 500 surgeries every year for local patients. We have agricultural experts who work hand-in-hand with Zimbabweans to pass on technological know-how in the field. Each year numerous Chinese and Zimbabwean art troupes visit each other’s country and entertain the audiences in China and Zimbabwe through excellent artistic performances, like the “Dream Star Show” in Zimbabwe. The examples are endless.
KB: How many Zimbabwean students are going to get scholarships to China this year?
AG: We welcome and support Zimbabwean students to study in China and each year provide around 100 scholarships to Zimbabwean students. Besides this, we provide more than 600 training opportunities for professionals from different sectors of Zimbabwe including agriculture, science, management and others.
KB: Any last words Your Excellency?
AG: I do wish the people of Zimbabwe the best and for them to have a better life and achieve Vision 2030. We thank them for their friendship towards China and I am confident of a better future in our relations.
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