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China lectures Zimbabwe on environmental preservation

China lectures Zimbabwe on environmental preservation

Inès Forman

Following accusations 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 the Zimbabwean government to become more transparent. In a statement made on 10 September, he stressed the need for regulation and monitoring of corporate practices in the mining sector and for 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 in foreign countries’ 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 in order 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 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They took the matter to court, which eventually rendered a verdict that stopped the building.

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Moreover, China’s skyrocketing demand for timber is putting a strain on forests in the Congo Basin. Yet, paradoxically, 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.

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