At the invitation of President Julius Nyerere, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai paid an official visit to Tanzania from 4 to 8 June, 1965. The photo shows Premier Zhou reviews a guard of honour at Dar es Salaam upon his arrival. (Photo/Maelezo)
Seventy-one years ago, the People’s Republic of China was born after many years of a fierce civil war, and war of liberation against Japanese occupation.
From 1927 to 1949, the Chinese Communist Party fought and finally won complete victory and established the People’s Republic on October 1, 1949. The Cold War between the two superpowers - the USA and USSR - was fierce. As a communist country, China was an ally of the USSR. However, starting from 1956, ideological differences between the two communist countries led to bitter altercations and final break.
China was isolated. China’s quest to make friends and to have a say in world affairs was an important strategic objective. To reciprocate China’s good will were a number of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa, eager to assert their own sovereign independence, and not to be puppets of one of the two superpowers.
Non-alignment was the new trajectory of international relations for many post-colonial states. With its astute and polished Premier / diplomat Zhou Enlai, China played a pivotal role in building the non-alignment movement and Mwalimu Nyerere was one of its staunchest African advocates.
Moreover, as a torch bearer of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, China took it as a moral obligation to support the liberation movements in Africa and saw Tanzania as the best country positioned to work with. On February 20, 1965, during Mwalimu Nyerere’s first visit to China, the Treaty of Friendship between the People’s Republic of China and the United Republic of Tanzania was signed.
The short text – only two pages – established key principles of the relationship. Article II, constitutes the political foundation, “The Contracting Parties pledge to take the Five Principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence as the principles guiding the relations between the two countries.”
Article III, established the guidelines of economic cooperation, “The Contracting Parties agree to develop economic and cultural relations between the two countries in the spirit of equality, mutual benefit and friendly cooperation.”
Mwalimu’s meetings with Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai and other Chinese leaders, their simple lifestyle, the hard work and discipline of the Chinese people greatly impressed him. Those attributes of the Chinese revolution and state were to influence Tanzania’s policy of Socialism and self-reliance (Ujamaa) as enunciated in the Arusha Declaration two years later.
The leadership code that circumscribed leaders involvement in capitalist activities such as rental property development and ownership of commercial businesses became the cornerstone of party ideology and discipline. The visit also provided Nyerere with evidence that a poor country, as China was, could still build socialism. Premier Zhou Enlai arrived in Tanzania on June 4, 1965 for a four-day visit.
According to eye-witnesses Premier Zhou’s reception in Tanzania has been hailed as having attracted the biggest welcoming crowd seen everywhere he went and set the tone of Tanzania China relations. The visit was a very important event in Tanzania China relations.
It was the occasion for Zhou and Nyerere to map out the long-term strategy to fight against colonialism and imperialism in Southern Africa and to cement economic and technical cooperation between China and Tanzania.
It was also to work out the details of the project of construction of TAZARA, aimed at breaking the stranglehold Rhodesia, Portugal and South Africa had on Zambia’s access to seaports for its exports and imports. Chinese assistance to Tanzania was given despite the difficult economic conditions that China was itself experiencing.
To make matters worse the Cultural revolution was in full swing and was wreaking havoc in the country and setting China back economically. Yet for Chairman Mao and the Chinese leadership at the time, politics was everything, and to realise political objectives, China was ready to give aid without any strings and without expecting anything in return other than political support for those Chinese interests such as the one China policy and the return of its legitimate seat in the United Nations.
In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping who had taken over power after the death of Chairman Mao reversed many internal and external policies that had been the pillars of the Chinese communist state since its foundation. His opening up of China to foreign investment and to allowing homegrown private enterprise corporations changed the way of doing business and how China was going to deal with its friends.
Politics would no longer be the only criteria for giving aid and assistance; trade, joint ventures, mutual advantage, win-win deals would henceforth define Chinese economic relations not only with the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America but all countries irrespective of their politics.
China would deal with each country irrespective of the old ideologies as long as both stood to gain economically, financially and technologically. With the turnaround in economic and political outlook, China has achieved the most dramatic results in fighting poverty in history and reached the position of economic superpower a close second to the US.
This has enabled China to play a bigger role in international affairs which as would be expected has also brought it into fierce competition and conflict with the US and other western countries which see China as taking what are historically their spheres of influence.
But with such power financially, those western countries which for long ignored Africa, cannot match China’s economic and trade influence and are now orchestrating anti-Chinese propaganda and scrambling to have a piece of Africa, reminiscent of the 19th century scramble. China’s successes are inspiring African, Asian and Latin American countries and people, as well as progressive people in other parts of the world.
Chinese government’s respect for and insistence on all nations to respect international treaties and agreements, with regard to climate change, international trade and peaceful resolution of conflicts, are important contributions to world peace, security and development. Chinese state and private corporations working in Africa and other parts of the world, adhering to local laws and respecting cultural norms augur well for future of Africa-China relations.
This is in line with the provision in the Tanzania-China Friendship Treaty: “To develop economic and cultural relations between the two countries in the spirit of equality, mutual benefit and friendly cooperation” and fulfilling the vision of its architects, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Chairman Liu Shaoqi.
Long live the friendship between Tanzania and China!
(The author is Managing Director of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers.)