The Government has barred the main opposition party from attending ceremonies marking the visit of Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, because of its anti-China stance.
Zambia has witnessed some of Africa’s most public expressions of unease over China’s growing power, most notably when workers at a Chinese-owned mine rioted over pay.
Vernon Mwaanga, the chief government spokesman, told reporters from state media that the Patriotic Front was the only opposition party not invited to meetings between Hu and Levy Mwanawasa, the Zambian president.
The Patriotic Front has accused the government of selling out to Beijing.
“We have invited opposition party leaders to attend public functions like the state banquet for the Chinese president,” Mwaanga said.
“But … we have not invited any leader of the Patriotic Front because they do not recognise the Chinese people.”
Hu, who arrived on Saturday, faces a delicate task in copper-rich Zambia because of widespread local feeling that China is attempting to dominate and ‘colonise’ the local economy.
Zambian officials however said Hu’s visit will spur trade and foreign investment and make Zambia a hub for China’s economic expansion on the world’s poorest continent.
Ng’andu Magande, the finance minister, said that Zambia aimed to strengthen its bilateral ties with China in order to learn from the Asian country’s success in boosting its once-moribund economy.
“The most important thing for us is that China is the fastest growing economy and we are also growing. These relations will help us to find winning ways because China was an [economic] underdog just a few years ago, but they are now performing well,” Magande said.
China did not respond to the opposition’s claims.
“I’m sure that this visit will serve to take China-Zambia relations to a higher level,” Hu said in a statement.
Hu and Mwanawasa were due to hold private talks later on Saturday and will then issue a joint communique.
The government has said journalists would not be allowed to ask questions during a joint news conference by Hu and Mwanawasa on Sunday after the two leaders sign trade and economic co-operation agreements.
The Patriotic Front, which narrowly lost elections last year after running on an openly anti-China platform, criticised Hu’s visit.
Guy Scott, Patriotic Front general secretary, said: “They are out to colonise Africa economically and also to get Africa’s solidarity at the United Nations.”
Hu’s trip to Zambia dropped a planned stop in the Copperbelt region, apparently out of fears he might be targeted by protesting families of workers who died in a 2005 explosion at a Chinese-owned mine.