This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of Diplomatic ties between China & Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean Ambassador to China Martin Chedondo spoke in on a range of topics including bilateral ties and the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.

Q. There are French doctors suggesting using Africa as the testing ground for the coronavirus vaccine, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) later branded as a racist comment. What’s your opinion on that?

Ambassador: The entire world is waiting in anticipation of the introduction of a new vaccine to fight COVID-19. It is actually a situation where we are saying all those with the capacity must develop a vaccine so that this menace comes to an end and life returns to normal. It is unfortunate that you have a section within the same global community wanting to politicise or turn the development of a vaccine into a kind of political weapon.

Science must take its course, normal protocols must be observed. As the WHO said, you cannot and must not assign the name of the pandemic to particular groups of countries, particular groups of peoples.

It is the same when it comes to testing: Let’s follow scientific evidence, not say it must be tested against the Africans or it must be tested against the Chinese. It is the need which must determine where the testing has to take place, so that humanity is treated equally. There are no inferior or superior human beings. We are all equal. Hence, adhering to the principles of global governance, I only say scientific principles must be respected.

Q. What do you think of China’s efforts in fighting this epidemic?

Ambassador: First and foremost, I really from the bottom of my heart would like to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed their lives in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Their fight was not only for China, but to defend the entirety of the global village. And as the pandemic ends, their efforts must be applauded.

For those who lost their own lives, we really feel for their sacrifices. For those who are still alive, we hail the efforts which they gave, and they are still continuing to give.

I applaud the government and people of China, and in particular President Xi Jinping for giving the leadership which saw China achieve its remarkable successes in fighting the pandemic.

And China itself again is continuing to take the global lead in fighting the pandemic. We are proud of those efforts.

Q. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Zimbabwe remains low. What are the major challenges Zimbabwe faces in preventing this pandemic from further spreading?

Ambassador: The figures of infections remain low in Zimbabwe and that really is not awful. Fate has been on the side of Zimbabwe that we have this low case count. But everything being said, I do not want to mask the magnitude of the challenge the country is facing.

The country currently is in an economic meltdown, because of the illegal alien sanctions which were imposed on the country way back in 2002.

For over 20 years, we have been living under sanctions. That has debilitatingly caused the running down of health institutions. To that extent, if the pandemic were to balloon today, we are going to experience a humanitarian catastrophe. Hence, the major challenge, which we call upon the international community to help Zimbabwe with, is the lifting of sanctions.

We are happy the UN has added its voice that the sanctions are not doing any good to the people of Zimbabwe. And we ask everyone to join hands with us in calling for the removal of those sanctions, so that we can lead a normal economic life, where the government will have the capacity to put up infrastructure and look after the health of its people.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a passing phase, but life must continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. And governments must be able to put in place structures for the normal health governance of their people.

Q. In what aspect does Zimbabwe need urgent help in curbing this virus?

Ambassador: We are grateful that some quarters of the international community, China included, has quickly come to the aid of Zimbabwe with the provision of basic necessities for fighting the pandemic.

First and foremost, the government of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF have made timely interventions, firstly, in calling for a lockdown on the country to ensure that the movement and the spread of the pandemic through people-to-people contacts is eliminated. We are glad our people have also heeded that call and they have been disciplined enough. The lockdown lasts for 21 days and it is working.

Secondly, China, through foundations like that of Jack Ma, the Chinese business community in Zimbabwe, and Chinese businesses on the mainland have all contributed in various forms.

And as far as protective equipment is concerned, I do not want to pass without mentioning the efforts of the Zimbabwean business community. We have also, in various ways, donated towards alleviating the plight as far as our health workers are concerned.

Q. Do the numbers of confirmed cases in Zimbabwe’s neighbouring countries concern Harare? Do you think African countries should strengthen the collaboration?

Ambassador: Zimbabwe is concerned with rising cases in the region, which is an integrated region. One country naturally affects the other. So certainly we have to put in joint efforts in controlling the pandemic.

And we should not only be talking about cooperation between African countries. We should be talking about global governance collaboration in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We are happy to acknowledge the role China plays across the globe.

Q. What do you think of bilateral ties between the two countries currently?

Ambassador: 40 years of independence for Zimbabwe evokes excitement, and evokes the spirit that travelled a long road to independence, and states that our relations with China have come a long way.

In the 1970s, the people of China made material sacrifices in supporting Zimbabwe in its fight for independence. The year 1980, when we achieved independence, is a milestone. China was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations. Those relations have moved from strength to strength and continue to give us leverage as we conduct our business in the global arena.

From 2003, when the country was hit by economic sanctions, our survival has been mainly supported and enacted in the east with China being the pivot.

2008 is a testimony to the relations between us. China took the unprecedented move of exercising its veto when the West wanted to have Zimbabwe put on United Nations sanctions. That was the strength in solidarity shown by our Chinese compatriots. And from there, relations continued to go to 2017, when there was a change of government and our relations were elevated.

In 2018, our relations were upgraded from all-weather friends to a comprehensive strategic partnership, which is what continues to this day through the wisdom of President Xi and President Mnangagwa. It called for joint collaboration in upgrading relations, so that they have meaning between the peoples through economic exchanges.

And it is on that note that the 40 years must now start to demonstrate the economic interplay between the people, rather than just being a relationship between the two heads of states and government.

Hence, there is room for more traction as far as businesses are concerned. We are calling upon the business community in China to come to invest in Zimbabwe. And we are calling upon Zimbabwe also to come and invest in China. China is open for business, Zimbabwe is open for business. Our two dispositions are saying, “Let’s interact and share experiences”, so that together we will grow with a common destiny and a shared future of prosperity.

Q. Has the epidemic had any impact on the Belt & Road cooperation between the two countries? And how do you assess prospects for BRI cooperation after this pandemic?

Ambassador: Naturally, the pandemic has caused some dislocation as far as economic exchanges are concerned. Many projects, which are supposed to be moving ahead, have been negatively impacted because of the lockdowns. There’s no free passage of transport. Air, sea, rail, roads are locked. Workers who are carrying out some of these projects have been stuck in China or in Zimbabwe.

That negatively impacts projects for the BRI. It is our hope that the end of the pandemic will see more movement taking place, so that the projects are once again resumed. It is only a matter of time when the pandemic is over, and we should see things moving.

Q. What do you think of the strengthening of cooperation in the medical field, when both of us are facing this COVID-19 challenge?

Ambassador: There’s a lot of room for improvement, as far as medical cooperation is concerned. Already it has started. The Chinese business community in Zimbabwe is upgrading some of our facilities for COVID-19, medical supplies have been sent.

And certainly when the need arises, alarm bells will always be sounded if we have need for more medical expertise, including the exchange of personnel. But right now, we are happy within the level of cooperation which is taking place.

Q. Some Western media say China is helping other countries combat the virus for “diplomatic purposes” only. What’s your take on that?

Ambassador: Humanity must be sensitive to the needs of the global village.

China is making sacrifices in sending its personnel and equipment at cost to itself. The efforts being exerted by China are not only in terms of equipment. We are talking of the priceless involvement of Chinese citizens who are exposing themselves to the dangers of COVID-19 in helping other foreign nationals.

We really must appreciate them rather than try and politicise the help, which is saving lives. Leadership in governance is about looking after the interests of people, and health is among the primary interests.

So if you have a neighbour who chooses to sacrifice on your behalf, you must only embrace, acknowledge and appreciate rather than vilify and demonise, which is what is unfortunately happening with some dispositions. It’s unfortunate.

Q. How did you spend “quarantine life” and what do you suggest people do during this quarantine period?

Ambassador: The quarantine is now almost like history. I think it was a moment of soul-searching. It was a moment of studying, looking at how the disposition responds in reacting to crisis.

I learned a lot of lessons about how the Chinese system of governance works, because one could not imagine the situation for the 1.4 billion citizens of China. Each and every one of them had their head temperature taken and reported on a daily basis. That’s a near-impossible feat, even with my military background.

Those are some of the strong lessons which I did learn during this lockdown. It was an eye-opener, which we can also adopt and implement back at home.