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Beijing Denies Discussions Of US$2 Billion Bailout Loan To Harare

China has denied that it is in discussions with Harare for a loan of US$2 billion dollars to stabilize Zimbabwe's moribund economy. Reuters said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a statement Tuesday saying no such talks were in progress.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper last week quoted Harare’s ambassador to China, Chris Mutsvangwa, as saying Beijing had appointed a projects officer to begin talks with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Finance and Reserve Bank on the loan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said his department had “looked for confirmation with the relevant departments and...there is absolutely no such thing.”

It is not the first time that Harare officials have announced major financing deals which subsequently failed to pan out. Official sources have announced financing deals in the past few month supposedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources but none of these have been substantiated by Moscow or established firms.

In late 2005 and early 2006, Harare and the South African government discussed the possibility of a US$1 billion loan from Pretoria to Harare, but discussions fell through after President Robert Mugabe balked at submitting to loan conditions - Pretoria wanted Harare to commit to undertake political and economic reforms.

Mutsvangwa was said to have made the announcement Thursday at a ceremony in Harare where China handed over 22,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer - a commodity which many Zimbabwean farmers badly need to ensure decent maize crops.

The announcement closely followed President Mugabe’s state of the nation address in which he pointed to his “Look East” engagement with China as one of the factors that would pull the economy out of a recession now entering its seventh year.

Analysts were divided as to whether China would consider such a loan. Some argue China has yet to prove its ability to match Western donors in development assistance, others say China is interested in Africa for the long run and is less demanding than Western donors in setting conditions related to governance and human rights.

Professor Abdul Karim Bangura of American University's School of International Service, commenting on the initial report of a possible Chinese loan, told Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, that China has been a steadfast friend of Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular, boding well for financial aid.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe...