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China-Tanzania ties sealed with 15 agreements during presidential visit

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan has won her country multimillion dollar deals with China in her first state visit to Beijing since taking office.

Hassan's Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping noted it was also the first visit to China by an African leader since last month's 20th Communist Party Congress.

Hassan and Xi witnessed the signing of 15 strategic agreements on Thursday, including an upgrade of the Tanzania-Zambia - known as Tazara - railway, first funded by China 50 years ago and still its largest foreign aid project.

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There was also a debt waiver and duty-free access to China for Tanzanian products.

The two leaders agreed to elevate China-Tanzania relations to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, generally regarded as China's highest diplomatic level, which promises full pursuit of cooperation and development.

"China firmly supports Tanzania in safeguarding its sovereignty, security and development interests, and firmly supports Tanzania in exploring a development path that suits its national conditions," Xi said.

"China is willing to continue to expand the import of Tanzanian speciality products, support Chinese enterprises to invest and start businesses in Tanzania, and provide assistance within its capacity for Tanzania's economic and social development."

A statement from Hassan's office said China had agreed to write off 31.4 billion Tanzania shillings (US$13.49 million) worth of debt.

Details on which loans would be written off were not provided. However, China said in September it would waive 23 interest-free loans which matured at the end of last year for 17 African countries.

Beijing traditionally waives interest-free loans - offered by its foreign aid agency the China International Development Agency (CIDCA), which took over the role from the commerce ministry's foreign aid department in 2018. But they amount to just 5 per cent of the total Chinese loans advanced to Africa.

Beijing will advance a US$56.72 million loan on concessional terms to build Zanzibar international airport's Terminal II project. It will also provide a grant of 100 million yuan (US$13.6 million) as part of an economic and technical cooperation agreement.

China did not reveal how much it will spend on the renovation and upgrade of the Tazara railway, although a joint statement on Thursday said "the two sides are ready to actively advance" the project.

The Chinese embassy in Zambia said in August that the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation had been appointed to carry out a feasibility study on the project, as part of the reconstruction effort.

China's involvement in the Tazara railway began in the 1970s under the leadership of Mao Zedong and then premier Zhou Enlai, when the country was facing its own financial difficulties, having just emerged from the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution.

Lusaka was desperate for a railway link to the Tanzanian coast. Neighbouring white-controlled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) had cut landlocked Zambia's only outlet to the sea for its main export copper, in response to its support of African nationalist guerrillas fighting for the transfer of power to the Rhodesian black majority.

China stepped in after the US and Russia refused to fund a new railway, on the grounds it did not make economic sense, and the Tazara was built for about a billion yuan - billions of US dollars at today's rates - in interest-free loans.

The 1,860km (1,155 miles) of track stretching from Zambia's copper belt to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean was built between 1970 and 1975 with the help of 50,000 Chinese workers.

China remains a leading source of foreign direct investment into Tanzania, accounting for 1,098 projects to October 2022 worth US$9.6 billion, creating 131,718 jobs, according to the Tanzanian president's office.

Xi said more Chinese companies would be encouraged to invest in Tanzania's development, including its transport, energy, information and communications links, as well as other infrastructure.

In turn, Tanzania has pledged an improved business environment and help for Chinese companies operating in the country.

The two countries also signed protocols granting duty-free access to 98 per cent of Tanzanian products. China promised to increase imports of speciality goods from Tanzania, and support Chinese companies to invest and operate there.

Tanzanian avocados will soon follow the trail blazed by Kenya, which is already exporting the fruits to Chinese markets, with the signing of a phytosanitary protocol between Beijing and Tanzania. A protocol on inspection, quarantine and veterinary sanitary requirements for wild seafood exports was also signed.

David Shinn, a China-Africa expert at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, said the effect of the tariff arrangements would be limited, with the East African nation having little that China wants to buy.

"Tanzania imports 10 times more goods by value from China than it exports to China," Shinn said.

China's main imports from Tanzania are oily seeds - such as soybean and sesame - as well as raw and refined copper, precious metal ores, and coconut and other vegetable fibres. In return, Tanzania buys Chinese rubber footwear, synthetic filament, yarn woven fabric, and rubber tyres.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.