China and Mozambique have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. China has historically been Mozambique’s largest investor. These investments not only include FDI (foreign direct investment) but also national and governmental investments on infrastructure and other mega-projects, the largest being BRI (belt and road initiative). China’s first partnership with Mozambique was seen in the 60’s when it strengthened Mozambique’s Marxist party fight against Portuguese colonialism. Since then, there have been growing concerns regarding China’s interest in and promotion of Mozambique’s growth. This potentially parasitic symbiosis is called “debt-trap diplomacy” as, it seems relatively inevitable that sooner or later, Mozambique will be infinitely indebted to China, which raises a multitude of issues. China seems to have an extremely powerful grip over several Mozambican sectors, even education! Signs, banners, and billboards are often written in Mandarin even though Mandarin is not an official language in Mozambique.
China has been involved in both ESG as well as non-ESG initiatives. Their presence has been the root cause of the largest investments (beating those of South Africa and Mauritius) made in wind farming, oil and gas exploration, mining, and subsea natural gas extractions since late 2015. Framework agreements have been put into place since then, pushing for more exploration, extraction, marketing, and production. More recently however, there has been a rise in eco-friendlier solutions. In early 2019, the Chinese government initiated a plan (with completion date of 2022) to produce over 100 megawatts of energy through the sole means of wind farms in the Maputo province. This project involves the creation and installation of 30 wind turbines, employing over 400 workers. COVID-19 may have hindered their ambitious objectives but are still in the works seeing the rise of China, with respect to Europe and the US who are still struggling with growing cases and travel bans.
China’s annual multi-million-dollar investments make for the creation of jobs, rising living standards, improved infrastructure, and many others. Its partnership and well-developed relationship also catalyzed the movement of Mozambican students pursuing higher education in China. On the other hand, students that choose to pursue higher education in Mozambique itself — like at the prestigious Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) in Maputo — treasure and practice Chinese culture. This is despite the fact that it is not a mandatory course but still taught, nevertheless, demonstrating looming Chinese soft power. This can be paralleled with the large presence of English and English-medium schools in India. In February of 2020, UEM students were heard chanting all-Chinese songs and Mandarin duets. Partially because there was a competition in place for the winners to receive a Huawei phone.
At the moment, both Mozambique and China are better off with these investments. Mozambique benefits from higher employment, higher GDP, better allocations of resources, and so many other economic factors. However, it may be losing with respect to the political side of things. China’s end goal may very well be geopolitical leverage and to reap profits from exporting workers, the abundance of minerals and materials, human capital and talent, expansion of controlling territory, and many others that may not seem obviously evident at this point in time. By investing heavily within their energy sectors, China has beat both Europe and the US in becoming a leader in a market with incredible potential. It has particularly established a reign of control and dominance in the energy market, which is one of the most precious resources a country could have. Seeing as Mozambique’s government debt is 108.8% of its current GDP (as of Dec 2019) and more than half of this debt is Chinese, massive control over energy is something that could play into this “debt-trap” that they have gotten themselves into. Some say it could be used as a pawn in case of defaulting, cutting of ties, and frictional relationships in the future.
In essence, China has played its cards pretty well. By investing heavily into the Mozambican energy market and focusing (in the recent years) on ESG initiatives, China is leaving a long-lasting positive impression on Mozambicans for many years to come. As previously mentioned, energy and especially eco-friendly energy are any country’s most important resources. By focusing on that, China is strengthening its ties with Mozambique, pushing China into the limelight. Both claim that this relationship is a “win-win” for every party involved, subtly ignoring the elephant in the room that perhaps this relationship is not one of interdependence. The reality of the fact is that Mozambique and China are in a parasitic symbiosis disguised as a mutualistic symbiosis and it is unsure what can unveil this dangerously covered economic imperialism. Considering that Mozambique owes half its GDP in debt to China (approximately 8 billion USD according to the latest data available in Q4 2018), one can only wonder what is to come.