By Foreign Policy and Economic Research Correspondent
Zambian diplomacy has been very “busy” in recent times. Following the visit of the US Secretary of the Treasury, Ms Yellen, in January, another distinguished lady, US Vice President Harris, will be welcomed at the end of this month. At the same time, the African Chapter of the International Democracy Summit will be held in Lusaka, one of only four in the world. As a Zambian citizen, I am happy to see Zambia actively engaging in diplomatic activities and expanding its international space. However, I also have a vague feeling that Zambia may become a battleground between the US and China in Africa. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for us. We should plan our policies well in advance, grasp the development opportunities in the midst and avoid possible disadvantages. This will enable us to better develop our economy and benefit ordinary people. From the perspective of historical tradition and practical interests, I believe that actively consolidating and developing good relations with China should be a priority for our country.
Zambia and China have a long history of friendship. China has actively supported the national liberation movement in Southern Africa and was one of the first countries to recognise Zambia’s independence. The late former President Kaunda once commented that “Zambia and China are all-weather friends”. In a turbulent international environment, the two sides have adhered to the diplomatic policy of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and have enjoyed decades of friendly cooperation. Many years ago, the Uhuru Railway, built with Chinese aid, made a significant contribution to Zambia’s economic development and remains an important economic pipeline. In recent years, projects such as the Kafue Gorge Lower Power Station and the new terminal building at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport are the latest achievements of Zambia/China cooperation. We should attach greater importance to Zambian-Chinese relations and the possible expanded scale of future cooperation for the benefit of both peoples.
China is an important economic partner for our country. According to publicly available data, Zambia has attracted a cumulative direct investment of more than US$3 billion from Chinese enterprises, ranking second only to Kenya in Africa. As both developing countries, Zambia and China have greater economic complementarities than developed countries such as the United States. As we all know, China has a very strong infrastructure development capacity, covering railways, highways, water resources, power facilities and other important infrastructure necessary for national economic development, which Zambia urgently needs to develop. China has a very strong and diverse industrial manufacturing capacity and a huge demand for mineral resources such as copper. We should strengthen our trade with China and focus on attracting Chinese investment to continuously improve our industry and boost employment. In contrast, the United States and other developed countries, although with more advanced technology and more capital, has a weaker domestic basic industrial manufacturing capacity, and continues to face a serious “industrial hollowing out”. Its domestic infrastructure construction is also relatively backward, as evidenced by the Infrastructue and Jobs Act 2021, and almost has no benefit to enhance the level of our industrial capacity. Moreover, US aid often comes with extremely harsh conditions that are not conducive to Zambia’s long-term development.
Zambia and China are both peace-loving countries. Both countries pursue a foreign policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and non-alignment, and each has significant influence in the affairs of their respective regions. During the national liberation movements in Africa in the 1960s, Zambia provided tremendous political solidarity and strong economic support to the national liberation struggles of many countries, and won the respect of countries in Southern Africa.
As Zambia’s national independence, stability and peace have not come easily, our country should continue to follow the path of peaceful development and should continue to strengthen its friendly relations with peace-loving countries such as China. In this way, we can better establish a good international image for our country and continue to win the respect and trust of neighbouring countries. On the contrary, if we become too close to the recognised “hegemonic countries” of the world, the United States, or even become a base for the United States to interfere with peace in Africa, we will probably become tied to the chariot of these powerful countries eventually and become their “accomplices” in their global agenda. This too brings security risks as their enemies become our enemies.
As the struggle between the major powers in the world becomes increasingly intense, Zambia is faced with the very urgent task of economic and social development. The most crucial thing is that we should keep to our basic approach and bottom line, to adhere to peaceful development and non-alignment. On this basis, we should actively expand cooperation with friendly countries and strive for economic development. For the time being, developing good relations with China is a good choice for us and should be our priority policy.