Zambia, China revive ties

11 March 2012 - 02:07 By ARTHUR SIMUCHOBA

ZAMBIA and China are actively putting their bilateral and trade relations back on a firm footing after doubts arising from the election of a new government in Zambia.

There was feverish activity as 2011 drew to a close with a quickening of high-level contacts between the two countries. By then there was already a standing invitation to President Michael Sata from his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao to visit the People's Republic of China.

In addition, Zambian Vice-President Guy Scott visited Beijing in mid-December and this was shortly after the departure of Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, who was in China as a special envoy of President Sata.

Again, the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai Jun was in Lusaka towards the end of December, in time for the signing of economic and technical co-operation agreements under which Zambia received a total of US$15.6-million. Of that, US$8.6-million was a grant and the remainder an interest-free loan for poverty reduction.

Zambia and China were to subsequently sign three more grant aid agreements on December 29, under which there was a further US$1.8-million in grants for Zambia.

The agreements covered the provision by China of extra medical equipment and supplies for the Chinese-built Lusaka General Hospital, provision of equipment and consumables for the anti-malaria centre and feasibility studies for the expansion of two hydro-electric power stations.

Speaking in the Chinese capital, Vice-President Scott said Zambia valued China's investment and urged Beijing to ensure that it came with good jobs for the local people and that preference was given to Zambians in employment.

Scott was the guest of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He met with Luo Tao, general manager of the China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Group (CNMC) at the company's headquarters.

CNMC has operated in Zambia for 13 years and is by now one of the largest mining investors, with an expanding portfolio.

Former Zambian president Kaunda, who travelled as a goodwill ambassador of the Zambian president, met with an enthusiastic reception in Beijing and was praised by top Chinese leaders for what they said was his role in the development of China-Africa relations.

He was received in the Great Hall of the People by the Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, who described him as "a highly respected statesman", who had laid the foundation for China-Africa relations.

He said his visit was sure to turn "a new page in bilateral relations" between the two countries.

During their 50-minute meeting, Kaunda assured the Chinese that Zambia valued its relations with the People's Republic and was willing to enhance them.

President Sata's message to the Chinese president was in fact reported to have been an outline of Zambia's readiness to work with the people of China.

When he called on Kaunda, the Chinese Minister of Commerce, Chen De Ming, said his country would help Zambia rehabilitate the Tanzania-Zambia Railway line and link it to Angola to enable Zambia have a direct passage from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

He observed that, as a landlocked country, Zambia's deve-lopment depended on a good transport infrastructure.

State counsellor Dai Bingguo, one of the top leaders in the Chinese hierarchy, described fomer Zambian president Kaunda as "a symbol not only of the China-Zambia friendship, but of Africa-China friendship".

He said Kaunda was a well-known African leader in China and the only surviving African leader to have met the founders of modern China, chairman Mao Zedong and his long-time prime minister, Zhou En-Lai.

In Lusaka, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda praised the Chinese for their rapid development and said that Zambia had positioned itself to ensure that it maximised on benefits from the 2009 Africa-China Declaration under which China made available US$10-billion to finance a series of projects in Africa from 2010 to 2012.

He lauded the decision of the China-Africa Development Fund to establish a regional office in Lusaka with an investment outlay of US$1-billion.

"In this regard, the Government of the Republic of Zambia reiterates its desire to access Chinese financial assistance and technical expertise to extend the Tazara line to Angola," he said.

The visiting Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai said despite the long distance between the two countries they had supported each other and helped each other.

"I am confident that the Chinese people will continue to stand together with the Zambian people in economic and social development," he said.