THE Chinese are better investors in comparative terms but only if investment, trade and tax laws applicable to them and others are clear, stringent, enforced and not malleable. In Zambia investment, tax and trade laws are malleable and changeable enabling Chinese and Western Investors to take advantage of Zambia. In China, Chinese firms do not murk around with regulatory, trade, tax and investment laws of China. In Canada, the US, Britain and otter Western ountries, Chinese firms strictly obey the laws of those countries. Why? Because those countries strictly enforce their laws. Of course Zambia is a dependent country and its leverage is limited. However, that shouldn’t be the case since we have great natural resources that China needs and which must be used as bedrocks for negotiating beneficial Chinese and any other investment from Western countries. How much dependency and vulnerability can we endure and cry over after 55 years of independence?
The topic of this article is however, about the vilification of the Chinese in Zambia and in most countries despite the proven evidence that the Chinese are better economic immigrants and investors than most other nations and nationals. Wherever the Chinese immigrants and investors have landed, they have been better economic performers, building lasting and visible infrastructure and communities despite the vapid discrimination engendered by the host countries or their citizens. When Chinese students come to study in any country, they mostly complete their studies and return to China to contribute to the economic development of China. The Chinese that reside in the Western world constitute some of the highest educated and successful immigrants in the respective countries.
How do I know all this? By experience, observation and serious study. I lived in Canada and the USA collectively and continuously without break for 40 years and observed the Chinese build infrastructure and communities in many cities in these countries. Parts of Toronto, Vancouver, New York and other cities are wholly built by the Chinese including restaurants, schools, hospitals, banks, houses,churches, malls, factories, roads et cetera. The Japanese have quietly done the same but to a lesser extent than the Chinese. There is no other previously racially discriminated non-White Immigrant group that has succeeded in the West as the Chinese have. Given time, despite the discrimination that is and will accompany Chinese immigration and economic investment into Zambia and Africa, the Chinese will succeed economically and as a community beyond measure.
President Sata was against the Chinese as an election gimmick but look what he did after being elected! The Chinese influx became the order of the day and an outsider would now not know that his party had made it an election plank to prevent Chinese investment and immigration into Zambia. The picture is the same all over the world save a few countries. The whole world is dancing to the Chinese beat. Very few countries can now do without Chinese investment and trade. It is the second largest economy in the world. It also for Zambia and Africa acts as an alternative to being captive of the unreliable Western World. The track record of the Western World and Western institutions is pretty much well known. Despite Western engagement from slavery through colonialism to the present day, is Zambia and Africa economically liberated through Western efforts including World Bank and IMF and aid bailouts? Zambia despite its enormous natural resources and penetration by the West to extract these resources is still an AID basket. So we will leave discussion of the impact and effects of Western investment for now and concentrate on Chinese investment, a quite relatively new player in that regard. We know what the West has done to Zambia and Africa.
Our leaders and any African leader who has visited or studied in the West and cared to study and observe would have noticed the same trend noted above as I did concerning the success of the Chinese in the Western World.
Not only did I simply observe the trends I have noted above, I have studied the Chinese and represented a lot of them in their immigration cases after some fled from China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square episode of 1989. Canada embraced a lot of those refugees while also accepting millions of Chinese economic investors and economic immigrants. Canada and the US know the value of Chinese economic investment and Chinese economic and refugee immigration. Because of Chinese industriousness, they have almost been given preferential treatment by the West. But this treatment has not always been like that.
I have studied how the Chinese were historically discriminated against by Canadian, US and the Western immigration policies. My Master of Laws (LLM) Dissertation (220 pages) was on the criminalization of Canadian Immigration Policy in which I partly looked at how the Chinese were dealt with historically by Canada’s immigration laws and practices. Despite Canada’s recognition that the Chinese were geniuses in the profession of railway and road construction engineering having hired the Chinese to build the trans-Canada railway line that connected the East in Halifax and ending in the West in Vancouver, Canada began to enact anti-Chinese Immigration policies afterwards restricting Chinese immigration into Canada. That trend was overwhelming in the entire Western world.
The Chinese finished the trans-Canada railway highway in record time in 1889 and immediately afterwards Canada enacted a series of laws aimed at stemming the tide of Chinese immigration into Canada culminating in the infamous Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 (Chinese Head Tax) which required the Chinese to pay a $500 taxation fee for any sponsored immigrant the Chinese could bring into Canada. This $500 at the time was exorbitant and Chinese immigration dwindled. In the same vein, Canada stopped granting citizenship to the Chinese, a practice that was only stopped in 1950. Some families were only reunited after 20-30 years. It was atrocious.
The Chinese made Canada a whole nation by the building of the national railway from the east to the west. In Zambia, we are familiar with how the Chinese built the TAZARA from Kapri to Dar es Salaam in record time traversing some of the most treacherous terrain when the Western countries claimed that the railway was impossible to build partly because of the terrain. When I left Zambia over 40 years ago, I used that railway line myself from Kapri right up to Dar when it was brand new. It was a thrill to be in that train all the way.
Discrimination against the Chinese in the West was justified on the basis that the Chinese were genetically criminals (a false claim nonetheless) and that the Chinese were prone to corrupt the morals of Western society, especially the womenfolk (a false claim nonetheless). You have heard the appellation of “The Yellow Peril” referring to the Chinese across the Western World at the turn of the 20th Century. Criminalization of immigrants including the Chinese has been at the heart of Western immigration policies, the present incarnation is Trump as the latest Exhibit “A” of this. Trump is attacking South American immigrants as criminals and Chinese Economic and Trade policies as endangering and undermining the US economy. That playbook has been played before.
I have also studied Chinese student study habits and successes among others. As an active student politician at York University in Toronto, the Canadian Union of Educational Workers (CUEW, local 4) had given me an assignment to produce a paper on the effects of Canada’s discriminatory fee structure on foreign students in the 1980s. I produced a 150-page report entitled “The Politics of International Education” which included my assessment of the performance of Chinese students in Canada among others. The Chinese students succeed at a higher rate wherever they go.
I have continued to study the Chinese. At the Commonwealth Lawyers Association Conference held in April in Livingstone, I gave a paper on the topic of “The Chinese One Belt, One Road: The Case of Zambia” in which I compared historically Chinese and Western patterns of investment in Zambia and Africa. Both are not here because they love us. Both are here to extract our natural resources. And both are here to stay. We have to enact strong economic investment, tax and trade laws to leverage and benefit from the Chinese-Western thirst for our resources. We have to strategically diversify our dependency as we phase out of it. It is a question of whether our leaders are up to the task or not. Or they are only looking out for their own interests. You be the judge.
Zambia is the biggest recipient of Chinese investment in Africa followed by Ghana and down it goes throughout Africa. The Chinese are involved in mega projects throughout Africa and had the West produced those projects during their initial forays in Africa, centuries ago, rather than simply looking to extract natural and human resources, Zambia and Africa would have been on a par in development with the West. The Western neglect of Zambia and Africa is now making us pay a stiff price by welcoming Chinese investment and dependency to fill the gap accompanied by massive state corruption.
Finally, I have travelled around the world studying among other things what the Chinese impact has been in those countries. In Zambia the Chinese have built airports, police stations, malls, roads etc. They investing in extractive industries and they are gobbling up our land at give away prices, with our eyes open. They have similarly done more or less the same in the countries in Africa that I have been to: Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Egypt. In my paper in Livingstone I deployed economic figures in billions of Chinese investment in Africa compared to those of the West. Zambia and Africa are paying an exorbitant price just as we paid to the West when they were our masters and just as we will pay if the West continue to be our masters. Western companies can simply down the tools, pack and go, leaving us vulnerable.
The Chinese are way ahead of the West and their infrastructural investments are visible and permanent. But we need to manage them as equal partners which we were not able to do with the West because we were first enslaved and then colonised. A slave cannot negotiate with a slave or colonial master.
I have visited China and Hong Kong twice and the infrastructure that has been built there in the last 50 years is unequalled by any other country. Shanghai rivals New York City in size and splendour. Beijing is as welcoming as London used to be to African immigrants, and is now multicultural, something that no one anticipated just a few years ago. There are African students in their thousands in China and most will be coming back home speaking Mandarin or Cantonese and new acquired knowledge. The Chinese influence in all walks of our lives, like Western influence before it, is here to stay. Get used to it. It is irreversible.
I have also visited many other countries like Brazil and Australia etc where like in Canada, US etc, portions of cities like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Sydney, Australia are wholly built by the Chinese. And wherever you visit in any part of the world, be it at the Sydney Opera House, the Jesus Monument in Rio de Janeiro, Eiffel Tower in Paris, Robben Island in Cape Town or Victoria Falls in Livingstone, a good number of tourists will be Chinese and Japanese. And the Chinese have become very aggressive in organising economic and cultural summits around the world in recent years. They learnt from their Western counterparts that economic and cultural engagement is the way of the world.
The Chinese are currently outperforming the West. The Chinese are here to stay. And we must embrace them but controlling the tempo of economic investment through carefully designed tax, investment and trade laws that promote Zambia’s economic interests rather than the economic interests of the political elite. Is it doable? The jury is deliberating.
Dr Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches “Research and Writing Methodologies in Law” among other subjects in Law School in Lusaka.