In the wake of pressures from environmental groups, Zimbabwe’s government revoked permits for Chinese firms to mine Hangwe National Park, home to one of the African continent’s largest populations of elephants. Guo Shaochun, China’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, declared that “he wished for the Zimbabwean government to become more transparent”. In a statement he made on September 10, he stressed the need for regulation and monitoring of corporate practices in the mining sector and Zimbabwe to “use the mining proceeds to develop itself and improve the lives of its people”.
The ambassador’s stand is a very rare occurrence as it contradicts the Chinese government policy of non-interference into a foreign country’s affairs. It is even more surprising as, paradoxically, Chinese companies have often been accused of lacking transparency in their operations and harming ecosystems while searching for raw materials in Africa. In many African countries such as Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, environmentalists have fought Chinese projects. These local organisations accuse Chinese companies of ruining entire ecosystems to build massive projects or to search for oil, metals, timber, and other commodities. Last year, for instance, environmentalists claimed that the building of a US$ 2bn coal-fired power plant by Chinese companies and their Kenyan partners would endanger the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They eventually took the matter to court and that stopped the construction.
Moreover, China’s skyrocketing demand for timber is putting a strain on forests in the Congo Basin. Yet, in a similar fashion, China is financing massive reforestation and afforestation programmes through its Belt and Road Initiative. It remains to be seen whether China’s efforts to preserve the environment will balance and outweigh the projects that appear to harm it.
Inès Forman is a French Caribbean who lived and taught in Beijing where she became interested in Sino-African/Caribbean relations. She holds a dual Masters in international politics from Sciences Po Paris and Beijing University. Inès believes in the power of storytelling to highlight and legitimize a community’s realities and is currently working on a novel that explores the black experience in China.