Strengthening bonds: Tanzania-China historic partnership for bright future

IN 1965, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the father of our nation, embarked on a historic visit to China. This visit marked the inception of a robust bilateral relationship and cooperation between Tanzania and China.

Nyerere’s unwavering commitment to economic self-reliance and social equality mirrored the vision of Premier Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong of China.

A decade later, in October 1975, the historic Tanzania-Zambia railway was completed. A significant monument to the future of China-Tanzania relations.

This historic infrastructural marvel, was completed ahead of its time with a generous interest free loan of $400 million dollars equivalent to $3.2 billion in today’s purchasing power. It symbolised historic, but significant modern ties with China.

By 2012, China ascended to become the world’s largest trading nation. Surpassing most policy makers and historians’ predictions. China’s Belt Road Initiative, BRI reflects modern history’s emerging economic capabilities. A comparative reflection of America’s great gesture of the 1947 Marshall Plan. The belt road initiative is to stimulate economies that lag behind under poor infrastructure standards, but also for countries that are seeking new partnerships with emerging economies and the large Chinese market. The BRI project has stimulated high speed railways, vital to modern growth. On the other hand, some economies are sensitive, with political officials wary of the initiative that their economies will inherit unpayable debts, but in truth it all depends on the expertise that negotiates the loans.

In the foreseeable future, China’s economy will be the most powerful actor on the world stage. China’s abundant talent should be welcome and emulated, so is its abundant capital for Tanzania development prospects.

As an African, I do not believe in hard nosed realpolitik on the global stage, I see China as a country that brought the global economy competitive interdependence.

It is a pivotal achievement to the global economy, and crucial to modern Sino-Tanzania ties. There are warrying perspectives that the Belt Road initiative is to form new Chinese club of allies. Sino-allies that block an established international trade system. However, that perception is conceit of old rules of engagement, in a world which is in rapid transition.

In March 2013, the China-Tanzania relationship entered a new era, marked by President Xi’s visit to Tanzania. In my view President Xi Jinping, is one of the modern Statesmen with visionary leadership. Part of his speech remarks, was crucial to strengthening our bond with China. He cited a famous African saying, “a river runs deep, because of its source.” In retrospect, Sino Tanzania relations run deep in the annals of our history.

Today, as President Samia Suluhu Hassan works on a pragmatic progressive diplomacy with crucial partners, China is significant. Because it is among the new leading market powers, the BRICS. In which China has shared interest with Brazil, Russia, India and our Southern African Development Community SADC (Member States of Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, United Republic Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) close ally South Africa. In this group Russia and Brazil are among the world’s most important energy exporters. Economically and diplomatically, strengthening our partnership with China creates opportunity in these markets.

Mao Zedong once said “facts are all the things that exist objectively, truth means the internal relations, that is the laws that governing them, and to seek means to study”. As Africa is young, we need to study, learning from our traditional and historic partner, China.

Today, as we seek truth from facts, emulating Mao’s wisdom, it is time for introspection of Tanzania’s economic condition. We must chart new dimensions of cooperation. During Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete’s presidency, he fostered a fraternal bond that revitalized China-Tanzania relations. It was under his leadership that President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania for the first time, marking his inaugural African visit as Chinese President in March 25th 2013.

Kikwete’s era witnessed significant strides in Africa and international affairs, with efforts to sustain our traditional ties with China. Cultural exchanges, such as the arrival of the 2008 Olympic flame in Tanzania. The Olympic flame, solidified our cooperation and warmed the hearts of the Chinese people.

This warmth extends to Chinese-owned enterprises and businesses in our nation. A personal anecdote illustrates this well.

In 2017,  I visited a Chinese garage for car repairs after a collision accident. The exceptional service and goodwill I experienced kept me returning. In 2022, when the car had door jamming issues, Mr. Yu, the manager, refused payment, citing our long-standing car servicing relationship.

In his own remarks he said, “the pleasure of life lies in having bosom friends”, you have been a good client for us. I believe his belief embodies China’s goodwill to other cultures. These encounters exemplify the need to enhance a people-to-people mutual understanding in modern Sino-Tanzania diplomacy.

As we envision new economic prospects, we acknowledge China’s rapid development. Today China is now the world’s largest economy by nominal terms and the second largest geopolitically. President Samia’s tenure presents an opportunity to benefit from our diplomatic ties with Beijing.

Our country requires intensive investment in new infrastructure, on a modern scale in which Tanzania’s Western and Southern provinces, or using our common geographical lexicon regions, could be accessible easily by roads, but above all by modern trains. This can be enhanced if we continue strategic negotiations with China. If areas at the periphery are quickly accessible, agricultural products, and fisheries both oceanic and freshwater can reach urban areas and push our economy to the value chain of mass production, which is a tedious but practicable and achievable.

With the rise of global temperatures, most of our natural rivers no longer pour the output of the past decades, making hydro power plants go through daunting challenges. However, on large scale damn construction, China has unprecedented engineering and capability on large scale construction of energy and power projects.

In recent years, Sino Hydro, a Chinese firm is an experienced and applauded hydroelectric power construction firm.

Through bilateral agreements with our long-standing Chinese friends, it can help alleviate our power crisis caused by climate change. However, reform in education is crucial. Can we learn from our Chinese friends? Yes, we require substantial internal reforms to enhance our investment climate.

Under President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s leadership, our skills must reflect positively on our historic ties with China. A robust workforce will ensure favorable assessments from regulatory bodies and public auditing institutions like the Controller and Auditor General’s Office.

Our nation enjoys a strategic position, with abundant natural resources, political stability and democratic values, which are crucial to attract foreign investment from new growing markets. Cultural exchanges, notably through travelling to China, and Chinese films, have fostered natural affinities to understand Chinese culture, for ristance International stars like Jet Lee, Jack Chan, Bruce Lee. For a brighter future, we must promote strategic diplomacy for the modern generation. China, as the most influential “new normal” on the global stage, demands specific measures in our investment plans.

Our vast oceanic frontier aligns with President Samia’s vision for the blue economy. As we advance, education programs, maritime engineering, vocational skills, and international languages, particularly Chinese language should be taught. Forums like the Confucius Institute at Dodoma and Dar es Salaam University, play a pivotal role. We must strive to understand our Chinese friends deeply. Our understanding of geopolitics is vital, but our understanding of China must be comprehensive.

In the aftermath of President Kikwete’s term, I delved into Chinese history, culture, and politics amid my law school curriculum. I realized the significance of China in contemporary times.  China was no imperial power. However, it sought mutual dignity and constructive relationships. Our support for China’s UN membership echoed our commitment.

In today’s post Covid world, we must strengthen bonds to navigate international trade and changing demographics at home. Our attitude toward China’s rivals must reflect a mutual diplomatic and nuanced perspective. The Belt and Road Initiative symbolizes a new vision for Tanzania-China relations, emphasizing mutual commitment, not ideological competition.

In one of his speeches at a global leader’s summit in Beijing in 2017, President Xi Jinping’s gave a new vision when he said, “China will not import a foreign model, nor will we export a China model,” His words align with our non-aligned foreign policy. Our historic commitment to China should not be misconstrued as ideological rivalry to other International partners but a sincere partnership. We inherit a legacy of cooperation and, as we look ahead, this partnership will be instrumental in building a brighter future.

It is crucial for Tanzania and China to continue to strengthen their historic partnership. We can do that by capitalizing on the mutual understanding, goodwill, and opportunities that this relationship offers. The shared history and shared aspirations of our nations create a foundation for a bright and prosperous future together. By enhancing people-to-people ties, fostering economic cooperation, and promoting education and cultural exchange, we can unlock the full potential of this enduring friendship for the benefit of both our countries and the world at large.

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court reachable via: +255727130688 Email:

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