Eswatini could be right in stick­ing with Tai­wan

Observer on Saturday - - News - By Bodwa Mbingo

As African coun­tries jos­tle for a piece of the US$60 bil­lion (about E876 bil­lion) promised by China dur­ing the FOCAC sum­mit, Eswatini re­mains res­o­lute in its stance not to have a re­la­tion­ship with Main­land China.

China has be­come Africa’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner. This is why over 40 African heads of state and rep­re­sen­ta­tives were in Bei­jing, China, be­tween Septem­ber 3 and 4, for the Fo­rum for Africa-China Co­op­er­a­tion (FOCAC), which will tighten China’s grip over Africa and deepen the con­ti­nent’s de­pen­dency on the Asian coun­try.

How­ever, all is not rosy in this re­la­tion­ship fol­low­ing re­ports of demon­stra­tions from one of China’s al­lies in the South­ern African re­gion.

‘China equals Hitler’ said the sign held up in the Zam­bian cap­i­tal Lusaka by a pro­tester op­posed to Bei­jing's tight­en­ing grip on the econ­omy of the South­ern African na­tion. This is con­tained in a re­port by News24.

The demon­stra­tor, James Lukuku, who leads a small po­lit­i­cal party, was picked up by po­lice and spent sev­eral hours in a cell re­flect­ing on his one-man protest.

But he is not alone in op­pos­ing China's grow­ing pres­ence in Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu's Zam­bia and in par­tic­u­lar, its ma­jor pro­gramme of loans to Lusaka.

In fact, his crit­i­cism echoes con­cerns shared by many across swathes of Africa and beyond, where some fear that China's mega-projects risk leav­ing al­ready frag­ile economies in even worse shape.

"I want to bring to the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity the Chi­nese in­flu­ence and cor­rup­tion in Zam­bia," Lukuku, who wore a white T-shirt em­bla­zoned with the slo­gan #sayno2China, is re­ported as hav­ing said.

China is the main in­vestor in Zam­bia as it is in sev­eral other African coun­tries and with its of­fers of "un­con­di­tional" aid, most pub­lic ten­ders are awarded to Chi­nese bid­ders.

In Lusaka and across the coun­try, China is busy con­struct­ing air­ports, roads, fac­to­ries and po­lice sta­tions with the build­ing boom largely funded by Chi­nese loans.

'Th­ese crim­i­nal debts'

"China is about to take ev­ery­thing from Zam­bia. They have taken over our econ­omy through th­ese crim­i­nal debts. This gov­ern­ment is con­tract­ing debts from China even with­out par­lia­men­tary ap­proval," said Lukuku.

Zam­bian pub­lic debt is of­fi­cially around US$10.6 bil­lion, but sus­pi­cions have grown in re­cent months that the gov­ern­ment is hid­ing its in­debt­ed­ness - as hap­pened in neigh­bour­ing Mozam­bique, which in 2016 was forced to ad­mit it had kept se­cret US$2 bil­lion of bor­row­ing.

Fear­ing that Zam­bia might be in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion, the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund at one point de­layed talks over a US$1.3 bil­lion loan deal.

The slump in the price of cop­per, Zam­bia's lead­ing ex­port, has led to fears that Lusaka might even strug­gle to ser­vice its ex­ist­ing debt.

Lukuku and his sup­port­ers be­lieve that the state is on the verge of hand­ing con­trol of the Zesco na­tional elec­tric­ity com­pany, Lusaka air­port and the ZNBC state broad­caster to China.

Stung by the crit­i­cism that he was sell­ing out to China, Lungu has hit back at crit­ics.

"I im­plore you to ig­nore the mis­lead­ing head­lines that seek to ma­lign our re­la­tion­ship with China by mis­char­ac­ter­is­ing our eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion to mean colo­nial­ism," Lungu told law­mak­ers re­cently.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mar­garet Mwanakatwe also came out to in­sist that, in the first half of 2018, US$342 mil­lion was paid in in­ter­est to cred­i­tors, of which 53 per cent were com­mer­cial sec­tor - and only 30 per cent of which were Chi­nese.

But the coun­try's main op­po­si­tion party has put China's debt dom­i­nance at the fore­front of its cam­paign to un­seat the gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­si­tion fig­ure Stephen Katuka warned against the "rate Zam­bia is en­ter­tain­ing Chi­nese na­tion­als which are dis­plac­ing Zam­bians through big fi­nan­cial of­fers".

Katuka, who is the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the United Party for Na­tional De­vel­op­ment, de­scribed the re­place­ment of Zam­bian work­ers with Chi­nese labour­ers - as is cus­tom­ary on Chi­ne­serun projects - as "a time bomb".

"If this sit­u­a­tion is al­lowed to de­gen­er­ate, it may lead to ag­gres­sion on for­eign na­tion­als," he added.

There have been sev­eral high pro­file in­ci­dents of Chi­nese man­agers al­legedly mis­treat­ing their Zam­bian work­ers.

"In some in­stances, the Chi­nese are beat­ing Zam­bians in places of work for sim­ply fail­ing to fol­low in­struc­tions," said Katuka.

Typ­i­cally reclu­sive, China's Am­bas­sador to Lusaka Lie Jie was drawn into the grow­ing furore to de­fend Bei­jing's in­ten­tions.

"I feel strange when I hear we want to colonise Africa," he told jour­nal­ists re­cently, cat­e­gor­i­cally deny­ing that China was seek­ing to buy Zam­bia's pub­liclyowned com­pa­nies.

Econ­o­mist and head of Zam­bia's Pri­vate Sec­tor De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion Yo­suf Do­dia told AFP that Chi­nese in­vest­ment should be seen as an op­por­tu­nity not a bur­den.

“Zam­bia has been dom­i­nated by the West for 100 years... and we are see­ing poverty all over the con­ti­nent," he said.

"The part­ner­ship level is around US$10 bil­lion - and that is good. There is no other coun­try that of­fers those kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties." The ben­e­fit of such vast in­vest­ment is not al­ways felt on the ground, how­ever.

"I am not happy with the dom­i­nance of Chi­nese con­trac­tors. In the first place, the money that they get from th­ese con­tracts is ex­ter­nalised and all that they re­turn here are mea­gre wages," said Edgar Syaka­choma, him­self a con­trac­tor.

"Let the gov­ern­ment also give us the con­tracts so that they ben­e­fit Zam­bians."

This then brings one to the fact that only one coun­try, Eswatini in the con­ti­nent wants none of the Chi­nese sup­port and has re­fused to ad­here to the terms of China to ben­e­fit from the de­vel­op­ment drive. Eswatini is the last African na­tion that still recog­nises Tai­wan as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try, much to the dis­may of the Chi­nese lead­er­ship in Bei­jing that con­sid­ers Tai­wan to be a way­ward prov­ince.

Un­til re­cently, Eswatini, Sao Tome and Principe and Burk­ina Faso were the only African coun­tries that recog­nised China’s es­tranged ally, Tai­wan, and were pun­ished with aid re­stric­tions. China suc­ceeded in en­sur­ing the clo­sure of all Tai­wanese em­bassies in all African coun­tries they had suc­ceeded in woo­ing.

Sao Tome and Principe and Burk­ina Faso fell for the mil­lions of dol­lars China was of­fer­ing while eSwatini pre­ferred to hold on to Tai­wan, which is con­sid­ered as a break­away re­gion by China. The Tai­wanese gov­ern­ment pro­vides Eswatini with aid and eco­nomic as­sis­tance. The African Ex­po­nent Weekly re­ports that China has as­sisted the rest of the con­ti­nent with US$60 bil­lion in 2015 and presently, an­other US$60 bil­lion for Africa and a cleanup of the debt ma­tur­ing by this year of its Least De­vel­oped Coun­tries (LDCs), highly in­debted, land­locked and small is­lands states.

Th­ese formed part of the eight new ini­tia­tives an­nounced at the Fo­rum for Africa-China Co­op­er­a­tion (FOCAC) in Bei­jing be­tween Septem­ber 3 and 4. China also launched an ini­tia­tive to pro­mote non-re­sources-based China im­ports from Africa, and a US$5 bil­lion spe­cial fund to ac­cel­er­ate such ef­forts.

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