Seizing China's opportunity
Commodities supply has supported China’s economy and, at the same time, stimulated development in Africa, as shown by the almost absolute correlation of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in China and Africa in the last ten years.
There are also 60 years history of China providing infrastructure, technical and development assistance to developing countries for mutual progress and in exchange for access to natural resources.
China’s engagement with Tanzania dates back to the 1960s, when China undertook the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia railway (TAZARA) linking Dar es Salaam with Kapiri Mposhi in the Copper Belt – one of the largest foreign aid projects. Similar examples, together with new joint ventures, have gathered speed in recent years and in April 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao committed around 22 million US dollars in aid for Tanzania and discussed the possibility to create a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to stimulate trade.
As Tanzanian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is heavily dependent on agriculture and trade of commodities, a strategic approach to access, control and management of the country’s natural capital is of utmost importance. It is in Tanzania’s interest to define how to seize China’s development as an opportunity to create long-term prosperity for the people and ensure that the use of natural resources causes minimal harm to the environment.
China has learnt that aid alone is not a solution to reducing poverty and achieving growth, and has been forward thinking in terms of planning its future. Tanzania has now the chance to move in the same direction, and in this perspective it can draw on China’s example in at least three areas.
Firstly, China has placed the issue of domestic poverty at the center of national policies. Thanks to this approach, in the last 30 years 600 million people (15 times Tanzanian population) were lifted out of poverty and China’s Human Development Index increased from 0.530 in 1975 to 0.781 in 2006 (out of a maximum level of 1).
Secondly, China has recently included targets to protect its own environment in top economic development decisions, such as the five-year plan – the most powerful tool to guide economic and social progress. With the 11th five-year plan (2006-2010) China decided to reduce major pollutants emissions by 10% and to increase forest coverage to 20% of the territory by 2010. It also committed to generate 15% energy from non-fossil fuels by 2020.
Thirdly, China has used green technologies to improve living standards and reduce poverty in rural areas. With the “Brightness” project, for example, China has committed to make renewable energy available for 23 million people (1,7% of total population) in rural areas not connected to the grid by 2010. Today, with the largest production of PV products in the world, China is a leading manufacturer of renewable energy products that can be made available at a price Tanzanians can afford.
To create a mutually beneficial partnership, Tanzania needs to build a strategy for sustainable development that includes a clear approach towards China, with regular monitoring and exchange of information with Beijing. China needs to know what Tanzania strategically aims to achieve in terms of investment and trade.
On the other hand, China needs to ensure that its operations abroad adhere to internationally recognized social and environmental standards, in order to protect the natural environment and have a positive impact on the local economy.
With Africa, China has the opportunity to champion a new development path that sustains the planet’s natural environment. This principle should inspire the China-Africa Summit taking place in Beijing in 2012, so that China’s presence in Africa brings a positive contribution to the Millennium Development Goals.
Dr. Li Lin,
Leader of WWF’s China for a Global Shift Initiative
WWF Tanzania Programme Office Country Representative
This opinion editorial was published on 15 April 2010, on the occasion of a a workshop for senior policy makers organized in cooperation with the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) in Dar es Salaam to discuss how Tanzania can be more strategic in its trade and investment relationship with China in order to achieve sustainable development.