International relations

Gaining from closeness to China

China has been accused of ripping Africa in general – and Malawi in particular – off its resources such as timber and minerals. But the Malawian government argues that the country has benefited a lot from the close ties with China.

Many people criticise that China only wants to exploit African countries’ natural resources. But Rejoice Shumba, spokesperson of Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains that this is not true in the case of Malawi. “Natural resources are a source of income. We decide ourselves how much should be sold. Whenever Malawi decides to sell any of its natural resources, it sells to the highest bidder,” Shumba says.

The Chinese embassy in Malawi says its interest lies not only in Malawi’s natural wealth, but also in development. The embassy states that Malawi has benefited much from China, pointing at the construction of the parliament, Bingu National Stadium, the Karonga-Chitipa road in the northern region, the Bingu Conference Centre and Hotel, the University of Science and Technology and the presidential villas.

Following a China-Africa summit in South Africa last year, China said its commitment to Africa will be to “implement cooperation in the fields of industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure, finance, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction and people’s welfare, public health, people-to-people exchanges as well as peace and security,” with a total of $ 60 billion in financial support in the next three years.

But in Malawi, agriculture, health and education still lag behind despite China’s promises. Shumba argues that “there are many variables which affect Malawi’s economic development. For instance, Malawi relies heavily on agriculture, but we are hard-hit by climate-change effects.”

According to official statistics, in September 2008 – just nine months after Malawi and China started their diplomatic relationship – trade between the two countries accounted for $ 59 million. That was a 120 % increase compared to 2007. The latest figures from the Ministry of Trade indicate that China’s trade volume with Malawi has reached $ 500 million since diplomatic ties were established.

In 2016, Malawi imported goods and services worth $ 303 million from China while it exported goods and services worth $ 55 million. However, many Malawians say that importing low-quality products from China has rendered local traders jobless. Others argue that at least poor Malawians can afford to buy these cheap products.

China also gives out loans to Malawi. In 2016, the two states signed an agreement for project financing worth $ 1.79 billion. The projects include a power plant and the construction of a new international airport. They will be financed with loans from Exim Bank of China and implemented by China Gezhouba Group.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.


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