China vows to facilitate Zimbabwe's economic zones

HARARE - China will help Zimbabwe build special economic zones and industrial parks to jump-start exports and a struggling economy, China ambassador to Harare said on Thursday as a Chinese firm started expanding the country's largest hydro-power plant.

The pledge by Beijing's top envoy to Zimbabwe, Lin Lin, comes days after 90-year-old President Robert Mugabe returned from a trip to China during which he sought financial help and investment from the world's second largest economy. Lin told Mugabe during a ceremony to mark the start of work to expand Kariba hydropower station, 400 km northwest of Harare, that Beijing was ready to deepen bilateral relations.

Investors in the zones will benefit from special tax breaks and officials said that they would not have to comply with black economic empowerment laws that force foreign companies to sell majority shares to black Zimbabweans. "China is ready to take part in the construction of Zimbabwe's special economic zones and industrial parks, lead the cooperation in infrastructure construction, mining industry, manufacturing industry and other fields and encourage more Chinese companies to invest in Zimbabwe," Lin said.

Shunned by Western countries since 2000 over charges of human rights abuses and election rigging, Mugabe has increasingly embraced a "Look East" policy. However, during Wednesday's session of the parliament, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa dismissed suggestions Mugabe had gone to Beijing to beg for loans backed up by promises of shares in future mineral resources. In January China's Exim Bank agreed to lend Zimbabwe $319 million to add 300 Mega Watt to Kariba hydropower plant, an upgrade that is expected to ease daily power shortages in the southern African country.


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