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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 13:11 GMT
China raises stakes in Zimbabwe
President Robert Mugabe
Chinese money is helping keep Mr Mugabe's government afloat
Zimbabwe's national airline is to start flying to the Chinese capital Beijing twice a week.

The plan, announced by Chinese media, comes as China is upping its influence in Zimbabwe's battered economy.

The latest stage of a long-standing relationship has seen floods of cheap goods imported from China, and big construction deals go to Chinese firms.

China is also ramping up its presence elsewhere in Africa, from construction in Botswana to oil in Sudan.

Air Zimbabwe is thought to have only two working long-haul aircraft, although it expects another two from China thanks to a deal signed earlier this year.

The Beijing flights will help service China's extensive investments in Zimbabwe, estimated by Zimbabwe's government to be worth US$600m but by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to be much higher.


China's relationship with Zimbabwe dates back to the liberation struggle of the 1970s, when troops were trained by Chinese advisers - as well as those from North Korea and elsewhere.

Once independence came in 1980, China continued a small but reliable economic interest in the country.

As aid dried up in the 1990s, the Chinese extended assistance, as well as funding military improvements.

But with Zimbabwe's economic isolation of the past four years - and its spiralling troubles, including 700% inflation and 70% unemployment - the relationship has strengthened.


As many as 9,000 Chinese are believed to be in Zimbabwe working on a wide range of projects.

In construction, the Chinese are understood to be working on hydro-electric and coal power stations, bridges, airports, and the reconstruction of Zimbabwe's most important border post at Beit Bridge with South Africa.

A Chinese consortium also has a management contract with Zisco, the state steel firm, while technology firm Huawei has a $440m contract to supply telecoms equipment.

In addition, the Zimbabwe government confirmed earlier this year it was buying $200m of military equipment from China - although a spokesman later denied it.

African resources

Zimbabwe's mineral wealth, which includes platinum, gold and diamonds, may also be a cause of China's heightened interest.

Chinese interests have become a staple feature of the burgeoning African oil industry.

In Sudan, the China National Petroleum Corporation owns 40% of the Greater Nile crude project, as well as signing long-term contracts with Nigeria and Angola.

In all, China-Africa trade is expected to top $20bn in 2004.

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