Zambian president Michael Sata has been in power for a year now. As an opposition politician Sata had made populist statements strongly criticising about the labor and general business practices of increasingly influential Chinese investors. It was thought by some that as president he might seek to constrain Zambia's ties with China.
Realpolitik made sure that did not happen. China has been the biggest mining investor in Zambia for some years, and its companies, many of them with the backing of their government in Beijing, are credited with reviving Zambia's once moribund copper industry, the country's economic engine.
Any early Chinese fears of what Sata's presidency would mean for Chinese investors have largely lifted, and economic ties between the two countries have continued to grow.
The once fiery critic of China began to soften his stance as soon as he assumed office, saying in March this year to a group of visiting business executives, "I would encourage you to bring more Chinese investors to invest in
various areas of investment in the country especially mineral
exploration. We would also like you to get involved in agriculture,
textile and many other sectors. The investment has benefited both Zambia and China. Therefore, every
expansion in investment should be for the mutual benefit of the two
countries and its people."
One of the visiting businessmen mentioned, ""The US$ 400 million Mulyashi Mining Project in Luanshya will commence
production by the end of this month. And our next project is the $ 800
million South East Ore body at Chambishi Mine. This is the plan for our
projects in the near future."
It is hardly surprising that Sata changed his tune rather quickly on steeping into office. But while Chinese investment is welcomed, the general disgruntlement about the state of relations between Chinese businesspeople and Zambians at various levels remains. Work disagreements that might normally be resolved through negotiations have in some cases resulted in violence, a relatively uncommon occurrence in peaceful Zambia.
'Zambia police charge miner over killing of Chinese supervisor' is a headline that encapsulates the tensions that accompany the boom in Chinese investment in Zambia. A disagreement over pay between management and workers escalated into rioting and the death of the supervisor. Two years ago China-Zambia relations were sorely tested when Chinese supervisors shot 13 Zambian workers, though attempted murder charges were dismissed , which may only have further fueled already simmering anti-Chinese feelings.
'Zambian mine death puts China relations in spotlight' analyses some aspects of the contradiction between wanting more Chinese investment, but not necessarily liking the Chinese.