via Behind closed doors: What the Chinese (could have) said September 10, 2014
State visits are in vogue these days. Almost always economics and trade are on top of the agenda.
United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron took a planeload of British businessmen and senior government officials to both China and India not so long ago.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia was also in China as he “pivoted east” after a chill had hit his country’s relations with Nato. He signed a number of business agreements including the mammoth one to supply China with piped gas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, recently elected with a massive majority in Parliament, made his State visit to Japan more or less at the same time as our President Robert Mugabe journeyed east to China.
It was a significant honour for the Chinese to host our government. President Xi Jinping’s time is expensive.
He presides over a US$10 trillion economy to Mugabe’s US$10 billion. He lords over China’s 1,3 billion people to His Excellency’s 13 million.
The economies of some Chinese cities such as Shanghai’s are 30 to 40 times that of Zimbabwe. Xi need not have wasted time, but it is a mark of his humility that for a whole week his government entertained a leader of Sadc’s now poorest (?) country: one without its own currency.
Zimbabweans must be grateful and deeply humbled.
After the usual and obligatory photo sessions, behind closed doors it may have been time for serious business, such as the Zimbabweans being taught “how to fish” as opposed to being given fish for instant and reckless consumption. The Chinese could have posed a few tricky questions for their African visitors, or offered friendly advice such as:
- “You have looked East at us for a long time, and you might have noticed we were looking to the West first and foremost, though we kept a close eye to the rest of the world. We advise you to do the same and to desist from insulting the West. For your information, the USA is one of China’s best friends, if not the best.
Richard Nixon, their disgraced President, has a special spot in Chinese hearts for crafting constructive engagement and opening America’s huge markets to Chinese companies, in the process opening huge inflow of investment into our country. So when you go back to Harare, do what you have to do to mend relations with Washington. Humble yourselves.”
- “Learn to be prudent. Try to account for your $10 billion debt. What in heaven’s name did you use that amount of hard currency for? Building beehives? When you borrow in foreign currency, it must be for projects that generate or save sufficient foreign currency to adequately service the loans plus interest and to provide for the projects’ maintenance and sustainability.
It is a cardinal sin for a State to borrow hard currency to finance State funerals, weddings, globetrotting, travel and subsistence, State banquets, dams that silt before they supply water for irrigation, a huge corps of diplomats, and little wars that you cannot afford. For the latter, try diplomacy. In good hands it works”.
- “What ever happened to your currency? You do not trust yourself to print or mint your own money anymore? How do you expect our banks to trust you, if you cannot trust each other? You seem never to pay your debts. Already you have defaulted on some Chinese loans. Without your own currency, you are severely constrained. You lose out on monetary policy including financial repression. Be good and go mint some coins!”
- “Stop boasting about sub-soil assets whose accessibility and value, if not location, you do not know. You make global fools of yourselves. You need money and expertise for exploration. And you have to compete for it with other countries. So improve your image as an investment destination. Nobody holds the world to ransom; not even OPEC anymore.”
- “Your politics stink. This increases country risk. You had an opportunity to craft a business-friendly constitution with clear lines of succession and a fixed term for the President such as we have. You missed that opportunity to have technocrats as Cabinet ministers the way we do. You need more engineers around the Presidency and less political science graduates and economists. Only when you have developed like us do you need hordes of the latter.Most of the time they spend their time disagreeing with each other while avoiding specifics, yet you need industry, infrastructure and growing exports.Mathematicians make the best bankers and the best economists. Avoid historians who thrive on opening old wounds.”
- “Have a little courage to have a progressive fiscal policy. If your people cannot save as individuals as ours do, then at the very least you should enforce collective savings as pensions and run your budgets at less than 25% of GDP to free money for investment, without which you are dead! Cut down the size of your beloved institutions to create fiscal space.You can always rebuild them later if necessary from your own resources, not borrowed money.”
- “Corruption and oligarchic aspirations will slow down economic growth, if not destroy you. Corruption is China’s worst enemy. Be equally ruthless in combating it. We can spare you some of our hanging judges!”
- “Finally have your own agendas and developmental plans. Avoid following well branded but hollow slogans such as “health for all by year 2000! MDGs and Esaps. We are sure you have some brains. Use them!”
“And, Comrades, may you charge your glasses for the Royal toasts?”