China-Africa relations
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Wang Yi visits the Epworth Balancing Rocks national park in Harare. Photo: AFP

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi backs call to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe

  • The two nations are long-standing allies and Wang used visit to reaffirm Beijing’s commitment to supporting the African country’s economic development
  • US and EU have placed sanctions on senior Zimbabwean officials and businesses but Wang says they have no basis in international law

China’s foreign minister has called for sanctions against Zimbabwe to be lifted, saying they have no basis under international law.

Restating Beijing’s commitment to providing economic and diplomatic support, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Harare on Sunday that the sanctions infringed on Zimbabwe’s legitimate development rights and interests.

“China fully supports Zimbabwe and Africa in their just call of lifting sanctions against Zimbabwe as soon as possible,” he said during a joint press conference with his counterpart, Sibusiso Moyo.

In October last year, the Southern African Development Community, which consists of 16 states including Zimbabwe, spearheaded calls for the removal of the sanctions. China, a long-standing supporter of the Southern African country, expressed its support for the measure at the time.

Zimbabwean minister admits quoting wrong Chinese aid figure

As a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council, China has helped Zimbabwe escape sanctions that would have included an arms embargo, and financial and travel restrictions on senior government and military officials.

Russia, which is a major arms exporter to Africa, also vetoed the proposal by the US and Britain.

Beijing also ignored calls from the West for it to stop working with the African nation over the former president Robert Mugabe’s record on human rights.

Instead, it offered both political and economic support in the form of aid and loans, as well as diplomatic support at the United Nations.

However the United States and European Union have sanctioned senior officials from the ruling Zanu-PF party and related businesses and these remain in force.

During Sunday’s meeting in Harare, Wang said Beijing was willing to continue extending mutual support on issues relating to each other’s core interests despite many obstacles standing in their way.

For instance, in November, the Chinese embassy protested that the figures in Zimbabwe’s 2020 budget had understated China’s financial aid to the country by US$133.2 million.

The Zimbabwean government later admitted that its figures had not included all the aid provided by Beijing in the first nine months of 2019.

The previous month, both countries denied reports that Chinese backers were had suspended US$1.3 billion worth of loans for three infrastructure projects after the government diverted US$10 million from an escrow account for the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport expansion project to offset a foreign currency shortage.

Will China ever tire of Zimbabwe’s corruption and bad debt?

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said that the key issue was whether “China can persuade Zimbabwe to regularise and make more transparent its public finances as a precondition for both Western and Chinese aid”.

Beijing extended US$2.2 billion worth of loans to Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2017, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, but Harare has been in default since the country fell into recession in 2008.

The International Monetary Fund expects the Zimbabwean economy to contract by 7.1 per cent this year, its worst performance since 2008, when inflation surged to 500 billion per cent – the second-highest rate ever recorded after Hungary in 1946.

Despite these difficulties Wang said on Sunday: “The China-Zimbabwe friendship is unbreakable. Over the past 40 years,[it] has withstood the test of strong winds and waves and has always been unswerving.

“China supports the efforts of the Zimbabwe people to safeguard its national sovereignty and national dignity and supports its independent choice of a path to development in line with its national conditions.”

Wang Yi with his Zimbabwean counterpart Sibusiso Moyo. Photo: EPA-EFE

Wang continued that China would support Zimbabwe’s economic and social development and “is also willing to coordinate and cooperate closely with Zimbabwe in multilateral affairs and safeguard the common interest of the two countries”.

Without providing details, Wang said China would continue to cooperate with Zimbabwe in infrastructure, agriculture and mining development, adding: “We understand that Zimbabwe is currently facing some bottlenecks and difficulties and believe that Zimbabwe has the wisdom and ability to meet these challenges.”

The foreign minister also highlighted the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Africa Cooperation Forum as platforms for promoting cooperation between the two countries.

Zimbabwe’s new parliament symbolises China’s chequebook diplomacy

In return Moyo thanked China for its long-term contribution to Zimbabwe’s economic and social development and speaking up for Zimbabwe internationally.

“Zimbabwe will firmly support the core interests of the Chinese side,” he said.

Wang also held a meeting with Zimbabwean Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who told Wang that Zimbabwe regarded China as a true friend.

“Zimbabwe thanks China for its selfless support and help for Zimbabwe’s economic development and post-disaster reconstruction,” Chiwenga said, adding that Zimbabwe welcomed more Chinese enterprises investing and starting businesses in the country

“Zimbabwe firmly adheres to the one-China policy, supports China on all issues involving its core interests, and stand together with China in international affairs,” he added.

At the meeting, Wang explained that during the period of struggle for national liberation, China and Zimbabwe were close brothers who fought side-by-side, and now “we are mutually beneficial, win-win partners”.

At the height of the armed struggle against the white minority government of Ian Smith, Beijing provided arms and training to Mugabe’s guerilla forces.

Among those who was trained was current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over following a coup two years ago.

While Zimbabwe has lost favour with the West over its land policy, alleged corruption and human rights abuses, China has continued to provide financial and diplomatic support.

Wang was visiting Harare as part of an African tour that has also taken him to Egypt, Djibouti, Kenya, Eritrea and Burundi.

Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing demands end to all sanctions against Zimbabwe