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China and Zambia: Friendship turned sour

20 November 2017Coface

Zambia’s export dependency on China doubled over the past decade, beginning in 1998, after China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group (CNMC), a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE), developed and began operating the Chambishi copper mine. Since then, an increasing number of Chinese companies have followed in the footsteps of CNMC and entered the extractive sector in Zambia.

Chinese presence in Zambia was also built on a ‘‘resources for infrastructure’’ model. The fact that a large part of inbound investment was resource-oriented, greatly added to Zambia’s export dependency on China, making the country even more exposed to potential shifts in commodity prices, and its vulnerability to external shocks.

Zambia is a telling example of the uninviting side of Chinese engagement in Africa. Several labour disputes between Chinese employers and local workers further tarnished the foundation of this relationship. This most notably attracted international attention when Human Rights Watch published a report on labour abuses by Chinese SOE in Zambia 13. One of the most recurrent criticisms of Chinese engagement in Africa is poor operating standards, though not in all cases.

A growing anti-Chinese sentiment in Zambia was used by politicians as a populist rhetoric; denouncing the engagement that is producing little economic and social gains for locals.

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