Harare - Zimbabwean state media said Chinese President Xi Jinping deserved a "hero’s welcome" when he jetted into the country on a state visit on Tuesday, but the main opposition dismissed the visit as a mere public relations exercise.
Xi is stopping in Zimbabwe for 48 hours on his way to South Africa for the summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in South Africa this week.
“President Xi deserves a hero’s welcome by all Zimbabweans of goodwill,” said an editorial in the main state-run Herald daily.
“[China] has made huge investment in infrastructure and energy development and agriculture against Western-inspired propaganda about Zimbabwe’s high risk factor,” the paper said.
Zimbabwean officials were viewing the visit as a vindication of President Robert Mugabe’s “Look East” policy undertaken after he alienated Western countries through rights abuses and alleged vote-rigging since 2000.
China was now Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner and investor and there were expectation’s Xi and his delegation might finalise “mega-deals” for which Mugabe reportedly signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) during a 2014 state visit to Beijing.
'This is public relations'
“Agreements will be signed, especially in the areas of infrastructure, agriculture and transport,” a top official in Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs ministry, Joey Bimha, told Monday’s Herald.
In an article written by Xi and published in the same paper, the Chinese leader said he was looking forward to "in-depth exchanges of views with Mugabe and friends from all sectors of Zimbabwe during my visit with the aim of enhancing friendship between our two countries, exploring new opportunities for cooperation in all areas and delivering more benefits to our two peoples."
However, opposition officials dismissed Xi’s visit as a mere “public relations exercise” and said Zimbabwe was unlikely to get a cent out of it.
“This is a public relations exercise by Xi,” Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) spokesman Obert Gutu told News24.
He said his party did not believe Zimbabwe – whose cash-strapped government was desperate for foreign investment - would receive any benefits. He said Chinese officials were concerned about high-level corruption in Harare, as well as the divisive succession issue within the ruling party as Mugabe reached the sunset of his political career.
“China has been watching Zimbabwe. They know the Mugabe-led regime does absolutely nothing about corruption,” Gutu said.
“They are also very troubled about the succession issue in Zanu-PF. Until the time the succession issue is conclusively resolved, China is not going to put a penny [into the economy]. They’re just going to be shaking hands, having dinner, having a few drinks... nothing beyond that,” he said.