Caixin

Zambia on Track to Host China's Next African Railroad

By Chen Na

(Beijing) — A Chinese state railway builder and the Zambian government have signed a $2.26 billion deal for a new railroad linking two cities in eastern Zambia.

The single-track, 388-km railway between Chipata and Serenje highlights China's ongoing effort to expand its commercial interests in Africa.

China Civil Engineering Construction Corp., a subsidiary of state-owned China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd. (CRCC), signed the agreement with Zambia's Ministry of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications to build the railroad over four years, the CRCC announced on its website Thursday without specifying when it will start the project.

Rolling stock will include Chinese-made passenger trains traveling up to 120 kph and freight trains with maximum speeds of 80 kph, the CRCC said.

Financing terms were not disclosed. Neither the CRCC statement nor a Zambian embassy representative in Beijing who spoke with Caixin provided financial details.

Financing for other Chinese railway projects in Africa — including a recently opened $3.4 billion railway linking Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, and the seaport city of Djibouti, and a $13.8 billion railroad now under construction in Kenya — has been backed by the government's Export-Import Bank of China, said Tang Xiaoyang, an associate professor at Tsinghua University's Department of International Relations.

Chinese investment in Africa has skyrocketed in recent years. Last year, President Xi Jinping announced his country will provide $60 billion in loans and direct aid to help African countries build infrastructure, improve agricultural businesses and reduce poverty.

China's total investment in Africa more than tripled to $26 billion between 2007 and 2013, according to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

China is keenly interested in Zambia's natural resources, especially copper. China has long been a key buyer of Zambian copper, which is the country's main export, although demand has cooled in recent years in part due to China's economic slowdown.

Chinese railroad builders are no strangers to Zambia. For example, through a China government aid project, Chinese companies in the 1970s built the 1,860-km Tazara Railway that today connects the Zambian city of Kapiri Mposhi and the seaport of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The Tazara Railway helped landlocked Zambia overcome its reliance on South African ports for exporting products overseas. It was at the time of its construction one of China's largest foreign-aid projects. Today, it's still regarded by the Chinese government as the embodiment of Sino-African friendship.

According to the Lusaka Times newspaper in Zambia's capital, the country's transport minister said the Chipata-Serenje railway project is aimed at promoting trade between Zambia and neighboring countries. The link will provide "direct economic stimulus in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique," said the minister, Brian Mushimba, at a signing ceremony with Chinese officials in Lusaka.

Contact reporter Chen Na (nachen@caixin.com); editor Eric Johnson (ericjohnson@caixin.com)

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