ZAMBIA has a lot to gain from maintaining a special relationship with China, but we should also be careful how we borrow money from China and what we use it for, says Vernon Mwaanga. In a statement, the veteran politician says while China has been an “all-weather friend” for many decades, the Zambian government should be wary of the loans it has obtained from the world’s second largest economy.
“Alarm bells are ringing loudly and citizens are asking legitimate questions about some areas of trade and commerce, which should rightly be reserved for Zambians only, as is the case in China. The government has a duty to listen to its citizens’ concerns,” Mwaanga said.
He noted that it was a historical fact that China actively supported Zambia’s and Africa’s struggle for independence.
“One day after our independence on 24 October 1964, Zambia established diplomatic relations with China and pledged to work tirelessly to deepen these relations through political, diplomatic and economic co-operation. Zambia also made a commitment to work with other progressive countries in the United Nations to restore the lawful rights of China in the United Nations and enable it assume its rightful permanent seat in the security council, which was being illegally occupied by Taiwan, which Zambia always regarded and still regards as an overseas province of China,” Mwaanga said.
“We kept our promise. Our first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda led Zambia’s first delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, where the late UN secretary general U Thant, conducted a ceremony in front of the UN Headquarters and raised our flag, to admit Zambia as the 114th member of the United Nations. This delegation included our foreign minister Mr Simon Kapwepwe, Rupiah Banda, who was then our ambassador to Egypt and myself. In his first address to the General Assembly in November, 1964, president Kaunda called for the restoration of China’s lawful rights in the United Nations. He set the tone which was to guide our foreign policy on China to this day.”
Mwaanga said when he was appointed Zambia’s ambassador to the United Nations in March 1968, he mounted a vigorous campaign for China’s rights to be restored in the world body.
“I worked closely with the Ambassador of Tanzania Salim Ahmed Salim and others from Africa, Asia, Europe, Canada, South America and the Caribbean. We then co-sponsored a resolution to restore China’s rights in the world body in 1968, 1969, and 1970, which failed to pass. After our renewed campaigns which even involved travel to many world capitals, the resolution finally passed late night of 25th October 1971,” he said. “It was a historic and landmark decision which was to radically change the complexity of the world and the United Nations for the good. Ambassador George Bush Sr – who later became president of the United States of America, tried desperately to prevent this outcome, but failed. It was a sweet victory for the principle of universality, common sense and realism. The New York Times published a front page article where they claimed that Ambassador Salim and I, were seen dancing the jig in the General Assembly hall soon after the result was announced, which was not true.”
Mwaanga said Dr Kaunda developed a close personal and country relationship with Chinese leaders chairman Mao Ze Dung and premier Zhou En Lai.
He said when Ian Smith made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in November 1965, the UN imposed political, diplomatic and economic sanctions against the rebel colony, an action that also impacted Zambia.
“Our imports and exports suffered and the government of Zambia had to explore alternative routes through the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Efforts were then made to get western countries to finance a railway line from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi. Even the World Bank was approached and they all declined, claiming that the railway line would be uneconomic,” he recalled.
“After discussion between president Julius Nyerere and president Kaunda, it was agreed that the government of the People’s Republic of China should be approached. The Chinese leaders agreed and sooner rather than later, financial, technical details and other related issues were completed and the tripartite construction of the railway began in earnest involving Zambian, Tanzanian and Chinese workers. It was the largest project undertaken by China overseas at the time and as the saying goes, the rest is history. Notwithstanding debt repayments for this Tazara loan, other agricultural and infrastructure loans, Zambia has enjoyed a favorable trade surplus with China since independence.”
Mwaanga, however, observed that there had been adverse public debate about some of the more recent loans and their questionable benefits and usage to Zambia.
“This is understandable, but should not overshadow the long history of relations between our two countries, which have pursued policies and programmes based on a ‘win-win’ situation. China should remain an all-weather friend of Zambia and that when problems between the two countries arise – which is inevitable – the leaders must quickly address these and resolve them in a pacific manner,” said Mwaanga.