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Beijing Cautiously Endorses Zambian Poll Results

  • Peter Simpson

China's largest metals-trading firm offered $6.5 billion for Zamabia's Equinox copper mine, seen above, in April 2011.

China's largest metals-trading firm offered $6.5 billion for Zamabia's Equinox copper mine, seen above, in April 2011.

Chinese officials have given a cautious endorsement of Zambia’s presidential election results, where the winning candidate was highly critical of his predecessor’s economic policies with China.

Beijing has been watching this week’s election results in Zambia closely and anxiously. The African country's pro-China president, Rupiah Banda, was voted out of office and replaced by Michael Sata, a nationalist politician who campaigned against his rival’s China policies.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei would not say if China's policies towards Zambia will shift now that Banda is out of office.

Hong says China is a friendly country to Zambia and respects the Zambian peoples' choice, adding that Beijing would like to work with the new Zambian government to promote friendship and expand what he describes as mutual cooperation across the board.

Earlier this week, Hong dismissed claims Beijing financially backed Banda's re-election campaign.

Chinese investors will be watching Sata closely to see how he approaches China's expanding stake in Zambia.

Dubbed "King Cobra" for his sharp-tongued views on what he describes as exploitative foreign investors, Sata has often been critical of labor conditions at Chinese mining firms.

In Zambia, Africa's biggest copper producer, Chinese mining firms had invested $2 billion by the end of last year.

China also has a strong presence in retail and other industrial sectors. It competes with locals in a wide range of markets, including chicken farming.

Zambia is home to two of China’s six Special Economic Zones in Africa. A few months ago, the capital, Lusaka, became the first African city to offer Chinese banking in counter deposits and withdrawals in yuan.

China's growing presence has sparked resentment, especially over accusations of low wages and poor working conditions in Chinese-run businesses.

While Banda argues China is helping to develop Zambia, Sata says Beijing has too strong a grip on the country.

Beijing is awaiting the details of his foreign-investment policy.