HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsConstructive engagement, a time for sanity

Constructive engagement, a time for sanity


“When Bill Clinton first ran for president, he repeatedly called George Bush soft on China. Now, of course, it is the Republicans who say that about Clinton.

PAINONA with Tapiwa Nyandoro

The danger in this moralistic condemnation of China is that we hurt ourselves whilst missing the opportunity to help China solve its problems,” wrote Time Incorporated’s Norman Pearlstine, then its editor-in -chief, in Time magazine’s February 22, 1999 edition.

This was after a 9-course dinner, inclusive of shark’s fin soup and coconut juice, hosted by none other than Engineer Jiang Zemin, then President of China and General Secretary of its Communist Party. The USA’s foreign policy of “constructive engagement”, with regard to China was in full swing then. The doves at the USA’s foreign affairs establishment, the department of State, had won their argument over the Hawks who preferred “containment” as the policy of choice.

The Chinese did not disappoint. They seized the opportunity presented by men and women of goodwill across the Pacific Ocean. At the dinner Jiang responded to America’s complaints. He understood the values of the free Press as long as the Press did not distort facts.

He complained about America’s reluctance to sell China high-tech goods such as satellites, warning that the United States was missing opportunities for trade as China would develop its own. Time’s editor-in-chief noted however the engineer was not specifically worried by American complaints, but his whole leadership team worried about their domestic economy. Without continued growth, the Chinese leadership feared China might revert to the chaos they had witnessed during the Cultural Revolution.

More like Zimbabwe now, China at that time had high unemployment, inefficient State-owned enterprises, no national unemployment insurance, no (meaningful) pensions, and no money to fund such programmes. Chinese economic planners figured then that they needed the economy to grow by 8% year-on-year to make progress on their problems.

The similarity to Zimbabwe’s situation is thus uncanny. The engineer remarked to his guest that the father of the Chinese economic miracle, Deng Xiaoping taught the Chinese that their country needed to open its doors and establish economic links with the capitalist developed world.

Could His Excellency President Robert Mugabe have been seized with the same thoughts on the economy when Ambassador Young, on a mission for the American government, called on him recently? Are his party and government going to seize the opportunity as the Communist Party of China did more than three decades ago?

“It took a decision-making process in the Congress and the White House for me to come. I am here representing the United States of America”, said the Afro-centric dovish statesman in Harare, after meeting the State President.

This was a momentous occasion. One can see the end of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Revival Act — ZIDERA in its destructive form and the beginning, albeit late, of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA or ZIDERA in its constructive form. A glorious period for constructive engagement beckons. It is ours to lose.

Positive signs are everywhere:

the uneventful referendum with its constitution with an expanded bill of human rights, albeit with some other flaws,
the eminent American Emissary’s visit,

the presidential speech on Independence Day that resonated with constructive intent,

the Prime Minister’s echo of the Presidential calls for peace in Chinhoyi,

Her Majesty the Queen of England’s congratulatory letter on the occasion of our celebrating Independence Day,

the removal of some Stateowned banks, key to economic development, from the US sanction list and now,

The registration of the so called aliens as voters.

The political landscape, once toxic, is being transformed. The Principals must be congratulated on a job, belatedly though, well done.

The next stage should see us invite all and sundry to monitor our general elections, including the Carter centre, named after the US President who appointed Andrew Young to the UN ambassadorship. UNDP funding too should be welcome. The reason that the UNDP fronts hostile Western governments may have fallen away. Besides we need the money. We should not pretend otherwise.

The ball is thus in our court now. The West was never China’s enemy after Deng Xiaoping chose the road to peace and prosperity. The same now applies to us. “Zimbabwe is the richest country maybe God ever put on Earth. Everybody ought to eat steak if we do it right.

“I don’t want to see it mess up or for us to look for reasons why it should fail. We shall look for reasons that can make this country work and succeed,” said Ambassador Young in Harare before going back home. He could well have been speaking to the Chinese decades ago! And I know not of any MDC-T cadre or for that matter, a Zanu PF one, who would disagree. Ambassador Chris Mutsvagwa’s effusive welcome of the new beginning in a radio programme, as reported in the Press recently, said it all.

There are however those, ever misguided, who see these recent auspicious developments as a Zanu PF victory. They are wrong. Detoxifying the political landscape is a key deliverable in the Global Political Agreement assigned to all in the Government of National Unity. Needless to say behind Andrew Young’s visit was a lot of secret diplomatic spade work, just as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put in a lot of secret work before US President Nixon visited China, in the process setting off the era of constructive engagement.

It is our turn to invite President Obama now.

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