Zim’s new Parly symbolizes diplomatic approach to China’s checkbook

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With help from China, a new city is taking shape on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, as Beijing strengthens its influence in Africa.

A six-story $ 140 million parliamentary building under construction on Mount Hampden, about 11 miles northwest of Harare, is the keystone of a southern African nation’s initiative to reduce congestion in the overcrowded capital.

Sitting on top of a hill, the imposing circular complex erected by the Chinese group Shanghai Construction Group is fully paid for by Beijing, which considers the gesture as a donation.

The 33,000 square meter complex will replace the current 100-seat colonial-era building that Zimbabwean officials consider too small for the country’s 350 lawmakers.

Besides Parliament, the Zimbabwean government also plans to relocate some of its administrative units, including its judiciary and executive, to the site, where a state house and official residences for the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the Speaker of the Senate to be built.

The new city will also be home to the country’s reserve bank, upscale suburbs, hotels and shopping malls.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made three visits to the site since its inauguration last year. During his last visit on November 27, Mnangagwa expressed his gratitude to China for this donation.

Zhao Baogang, China’s deputy ambassador to Zimbabwe, said the project was “a symbol of the friendship between China and Zimbabwe”.

“The building is important in the decolonization of Zimbabwe,” he said. It is expected to be completed by March 2021.

Paying for the construction of grandiose symbols of the state, such as presidential palaces and parliamentary buildings, through grants or interest-free loans, has been one of Beijing’s main diplomatic strategies on the mainland.

When China began to establish diplomatic relations with Africa between the 1950s and 1970s, it used offers of financial aid and interest-free loans and sent medical teams to endear itself to African countries.

In return, these nations helped Beijing secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 1971. Until then, the seat had been held by the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan.

But it was the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia (Tazara) railway, Beijing’s most ambitious and costly project, that did the most to bolster China’s political capital on the mainland.

The railway, which was built between 1970 and 1975 for US $ 500 million via a 30-year interest-free loan, required the deployment of 25,000 Chinese workers. When completed, the line stretched nearly 1,870 km from the port of Dar es Salaam to the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi, where the country’s coal mines are located.

Beijing has since funded several projects, including football stadiums, in countries like Cameroon, Mozambique, Malawi, Ghana, Angola and Zambia. It has also funded parliamentary buildings in the Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. Additionally, China has donated presidential palaces to countries like Togo, Sudan, Burundi and Guinea-Bissau.

The trend has recently accelerated, with Beijing funding the construction of the African Union headquarters with US $ 200 million in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

In addition, last year, Beijing announced that it would finance the construction of the new headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja, Nigeria, for $ 31.6 million.

Meanwhile, China is building a $ 58 million parliamentary complex in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and rebuilding the burnt down parliament in Gabon.

Two weeks ago, Zambia announced that China has agreed to fund the construction of a new international conference center that will be used to host the African Union Heads of State Summit in 2022.

At the 2018 summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to provide $ 60 billion in funding to Africa over three years.

This will include $ 15 billion in grants, interest-free and concessional loans, $ 20 billion in lines of credit, the establishment of a special fund of $ 10 billion for development finance and a special fund of 5 billion dollars for the financing of imports from Africa.

China is the continent’s largest bilateral lender, paying billions of dollars to African countries for the construction of highways, dams and railroads under the Belt and Road Initiative, the plan of billions of dollars aimed at connecting Asian and European economies to a China-centric trade network.

China grew by more than $ 143 billion between 2000 and 2017, according to figures from the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Chinese aid to Africa stood at $ 29.4 billion between 2003 and 2017, according to the figures.

Obert Hodzi, international relations researcher at the University of Liverpool, said these infrastructure “gifts” were meant to show China’s benevolence, its willingness to share its prosperity with other developing countries and its donations. sacrifices that made it dear to African leaders since Tazara. railway.

These donations, he said, also allowed Beijing to re-emphasize the tangible and much-needed infrastructure benefits it has brought to African economies – differentiating it from Western powers that focus on the “intangible issues of governance and human rights” widely viewed as disruptive by ruling elites in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“Currently, the strategy is working,” Hodzi said. “(President Yoweri) Museveni recently praised the Chinese for not being jealous of Uganda and for caring about its development. Beijing also hopes recipient governments will reciprocate by favoring Chinese companies. “

David Shinn, US diplomat and assistant professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, said the Chinese practice of building the African Union Headquarters, the headquarters of the African regional organization, for free, presidential palaces, military headquarters, public stadiums and political parties the headquarters was “excellent public relations and probably buys a lot of influence from African governments, regional organizations and the general public.”

But he questioned whether African leaders really believed the projects involved no quid pro quo, as Chinese diplomats often claim. If so, they were wrong, he said.

“African leaders can be excused for not taking an interest in internal Chinese issues such as human rights, the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the situation in Tibet, the building of islands in the South China Sea and Hong Kong status, ”Shinn said. .

“But a surprising number of African governments support China’s position on these policies. This is where the quid pro quo comes in. ”

Stephen Chan, professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said China has built prestigious projects internationally.

“They sit alongside infrastructure projects – roads, railways – for which China is well known,” he said.

“But they’re not that expensive. In a way, it’s visibility at a lower cost. It also gives exposure to Chinese construction companies. For China, it’s a win-win situation.

But critics have questioned the motives behind China’s largesse. Last year, a French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Beijing was spying on the African Union (AU), claiming it had set up hidden microphones in the building and was recording sensitive information.

Beijing rejected the report’s “baseless accusations”, while the AU called them “baseless”.

Analysts say China’s efforts to deliver massive projects are part of its broader agenda of checkbook diplomacy in Africa to win the affection and allegiance of its elite.

Bradley Parks, executive director of AidData, a research lab at the College of William and Mary in the US state of Virginia, said Beijing often imposed lavish spending on African leaders on projects, such as stadiums, theaters. , museums and parliamentary buildings, which disproportionately benefited urban elites.

Beijing’s goal was in part to gain the support of African countries for its political positions such as its opposition to the South China Sea arbitration process before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and its accession to a “one-China” policy on Taiwan, he said. .

Parks was part of a team that recently published an AidData article showing that Chinese aid was being used either to buy African governments’ support for its foreign policy or as a reward for their contribution.

“Across the continent, we find that there is a strong, positive and statistically significant relationship between Chinese aid and voting with China at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA),” he said. .

“To give you an idea of ​​the magnitude of this effect, our statistical model indicates that a 10% increase in the similarity of the UNGA vote to China results in an 86% increase in Chinese aid, in average, ”he said.

As an example, he said, the model predicted that if Rwanda moved from its 67% level of voting alignment with China to the UN General Assembly to the level of Egypt – 93%, the maximum level of UN voting alignment with China in their African sample – it would see a 289% increase in aid from China.

Conversely, if Egypt’s 93% alignment rate with China at the United Nations General Assembly fell to Equatorial Guinea (65%), “our statistical model predicts that Egypt would see an 87% reduction in aid from China, ”Parks said.

– South China Morning Post


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