Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has hit back at reports suggesting the country’s sovereignty is being eroded by China, saying that no amount of “propaganda” will end the country’s relationship with the East Asian country.
Zambia is highly indebted, with the government putting its current external debt at $9bn (£6.8bn).
Analysts speculate the figure is much higher, saying Zambia’s debt to China alone is worth more than $5bn.
Concern has mounted following a report by London-based publication, Africa Confidential, which said China could seize some of Zambia’s national assets if it defaulted on loan repayments.
The report said the country’s state broadcaster, ZNBC, was Chinese-controlled while discussions were under way for a Chinese company to take over the state-owned power company, Zesco.
Mr Lungu dismissed these suggestions when he opened parliament on Friday, saying Zambia shared the same relationship with China as it did with “Europe, America, India” and African nations.
“Our friendship with China is mutual and no amount of reckless propaganda will deter us from entrenching this relationship for the common good of our people,” he said
He also dismissed reports that Zambia risked losing some of its assets: “Ignore the misleading headlines that seek to malign our relationship with China by mischaracterising our economic cooperation to mean colonialism. China does not have that record; neither does it seek a horse-and-jockey relationship with Zambia.
“We are fully conscious as a nation and we are alive to the fact that we need to uplift the lives of our people. I need to emphasis that all forms of bilateral co-operation with China are and will always be informed by this noble focus,” he added.
Although Zambia has announced austerity measures to mitigate its rising debt levels, it is feared the country may continue borrowing after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delayed a bailout package earlier this year.