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Analysis: Could looters list hurt Zim China relations?

A list of ‘looters’ published by the government of Zimbabwe on Monday, ‘naming and shaming’ individuals and companies it alleges externalised money out of the country has raised speculations relations between Zimbabwe and China could inflame.

Mnangagwa meets a Chinese delegation
Mnangagwa meets a Chinese delegation

By Prince Butawo

The list, published after a three month amnesty, is laden with Chinese nationals and Chinese owned companies.

Although a counsellor at the Chinese Embassy to Zimbabwe, Zhao Boagang told journalists at a media briefing that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has made “encouraging” changes that have shifted the business environment, he expressed displeasure about the list.

“Some of the things are not factual. They (govt) would have done better to investigate more and come up with a more credible list. Some of those people and companies on the list have already regularised their issues with authorities,”  he said.

Alex Magaisa, a former advisor to the late Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, wrote on the Big Saturday Read that it remained to be seen how China would take the publication of the list, but commended the current government for not protecting the Chinese.

“It remains to be seen how China responds to its nationals being named and shamed for not repatriating funds to Zimbabwe. It has been said that China was not pleased with Mugabe after he effectively nationalised Chinese-owned diamond companies a few years ago. To his credit, Mnangagwa has not protected the Chinese, which suggests that they are not regarded as sacred cows.” he said.

Zimbabwe’s finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa rubbished suggestions that the list could hurt relations between the two countries however.

“China is our all-weather friend,” Chinamasa said, “Whatever those people do, we don’t hold the Chinese government to account. These are people who come to do business. It’s not the People’s Republic of China. And if they don’t obey our laws, the law will be pursued.”, Chinamasa told NewZimbabwe.com.

Chinamasa was speaking from China, where he is together with Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya, as part of the government efforts to drum up financial aid to revive the economy.

Zimbabwe’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa is due in China for a state visit to China next month.

Boagang told journalists that the officials from the Zim govt are discussing restructuring debt.

“Zimbabwe has debts with Chinese banks, so they are trying to see how this can be managed and create space for fresh loans. They are also meeting officials from the ministry of Commerce and Finance to see how we could resolve the issue of outstanding loans,” the Chinese envoy said

It remains to be seen what punitive actions the government of Zimbabwe will take against the Chinese owned companies, and individuals they named and shamed. These will likely determine the kind of responses the Chinese will retaliate with, if they do so.

When Robert Mugabe effectively nationalised Chinese owned mines, the Chinese expressed displeasure but did not necessarily retaliate, at least not instantly.

Months later, after Robert Mugabe was deposed, newspaper reports claimed China had played an active role in the military intervention. An accusation China has rejected as wholly false.

Zimbabwe’s army intervened to remove Mugabe just days after its then commander General Constantino Chiwenga returned from an official visit to China, fuelling suggestions the intervention may have been planned there, or received support.

  • Prince Butawo is the deputy editor for KhulumaAfrika.com, a center for investigative journalism