There are many things that bind Zimbabwe and China, but chief among them is the two countries’ ideological principles and orientation. China–Zimbabwe relations date back to January 1979, during the Zimbabwe’s liberation war. China was thus one of the main supporters of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, chipping in with arms and technical expertise as well as laying the ideological foundation that guided the country’s nationalists. The two countries formally established diplomatic relations on 18 April 1980, the day of Zimbabwe’s independence.
In 1978, as Zimbabwe’s liberation war was approaching a crescendo, something interesting was taking place in China. 1978 marked the beginning of a suite of economic reform policies known as Reform and Opening 改革开放 (gǎigé kāifàng). Within three decades, China managed to reach upper‐middle‐income status. This Chinese growth success story is inspirational and Zimbabwe has been trying very hard to write their own success story, similar to China’s.
Here are some instances where the Zimbabwean government tried to replicate Chinese strategies in the country. Just like when China adopted the Household Responsibility System as an Agricultural reform, where land was redistributed to households. A conscious decision by the Chinese government to address the land question in their country after realizing that productivity on farms had fallen drastically to the extent farmers could no longer live off the land.
The Zimbabwean government also took a similar decision in the year 2000 when it embarked on a Fast-Track Land Reform and Resettlement Program to address the land imbalance in the country. The results of the program were not the same as the Chinese program. It is important to note that China’s government emphasizes on stable development informed by the needs of the people. Zimbabwe, though trying to follow a similar path, have failed due to own restraints and other imposed restraints like EU sanctions which were introduced in 2002.
Even if Zimbabwe would like to repeat the Chinese success story, repeating the Chinese growth model is not straightforward. Zimbabwe has different institutional settings and varying socio‐economic conditions. For instance, a successful developmental state model—as in the case of China—requires skilled manpower and high-quality institutions, which are in short supply in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe looks up to China to the extent that after the introduction of EU sanctions in 2002, which resulted in capital flight and economic depression. Zimbabwe’s government placed great importance on Zimbabwe’s relations with China, which marked the birth of the “Look East” policy. China became the “only major international supporter” of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s “Look East” policy, aimed to expand bilateral and trade relations and offer priority to investors mostly from China. China has become the biggest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco, cotton and various minerals. Bilateral relations between China and Zimbabwe have intensified exponentially. However, the cooperation has fueled much contention over the potential ramifications of China’s economic involvement in Zimbabwe. In my opinion, if engagement is founded on a win-win model of mutual benefit, then there should be no problems.
However, there are many mutual elements and lessons that Zimbabwe can draw from the Chinese growth experience. The Chinese experience taught us the importance of the role of the state, institutional reforms, domestic saving and investment, outward oriented trade policies with diversified exports towards manufacturing, public‐private partnership (PPP), and technological adaptation through innovation. These lessons can be used to craft growth strategies pertinent to peculiar conditions in Zimbabwe.
So, does China’s economic development positively affect my country Zimbabwe?
China’s economic development has complementary effects to Zimbabwe rather than competitive effects. Due to its rapid economic development, China has an enormous domestic import demand for energy and raw materials, which provide a tremendous stimulus for exports from countries like Zimbabwe. Moreover, Zimbabwe’s export structure is similar to China’s import structure hence Zimbabwe will always experience complementary impacts from China’s economic development. Therefore, I see China’s influence on Zimbabwe as positive.