Friday, 10 December 2021

CHINESE GIANT PUSHES FOR BIGGER AVIATION DEAL

ONE of the biggest Chinese state-owned companies, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) which was awarded a tender to upgrade Zimbabwe’s airspace navigation system has gone for the jugular as it now proposes to be given a bigger contract, documents at hand show.

In a document seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, dated November 9, 2021, written to Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Felix Mhona and copied to President Emmerson Mnangaga and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri and Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, CHEC dangles a carrot to implement an expanded project to modernise the airspace management system.

“As a state-owned company of the People’s Republic of China, we hereby invoke the spirit of the Comprehensive-Strategic Partnership of Cooperation that exists between our two countries and invite the Government of Zimbabwe to consider this project as a China-Zimbabwe strategic co-operation project,” reads, in part, documents gleaned by the Independent.

Details obtained this week show that the government was in the process of drafting specifications for the large-scale national air traffic management system (radar). An inter-ministerial committee is yet to make the necessary recommendations to Cabinet.

However, through the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Co-operation, CHEC has already made solid proposals to the government for the upgrading of the radar system. The project will be financed through concessional funding packages from the People’s Republic of China, documents show.

Harare and Beijing have for long enjoyed a cosy relationship and Mnangagwa and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, in recent years agreed to elevate bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

This is what CHEC is riding on to clinch the lucrative expanded radar upgrade system project.

The Independent has previously exclusively reported that security organs under the Joint Operations Command (JOC) ensured that the radar system tender was awarded to “friendly nations” instead of companies from countries considered to be hostile to Harare.

A Spanish company was sidelined from the tender after security vetting.

CHEC won the aviation system contract as a sole bidder after other bidders lost the energy along the way following a restricted tender limited to China and Russia only, deliberately excluding Western bidders.

Approached for comment yesterday, Mhona declined to comment on the latest developments.

“We are not in a position to comment on that matter. At the moment, we can only comment on the contract already awarded to the Chinese company (CHEC) on the modernisation of the navigation system,” he said.

CHEC representative in Zimbabwe Tan Bosheng did not respond to questions sent via WhatsApp and SMS.

It is understood that for the initial radar system tender, CHEC has already started manufacturing Air Traffic Control Communication Systems (ATCCS) materials at its own cost despite payment delays from the government. CHEC cites the Comprehensive-Strategic Partnership in forging ahead with the project.

In aviation, the collapse of the ATC communication system would signal the last straw of Zimbabwe’s precarious aviation industry.

The delays in implementation of the radar upgrade has raised questions in parliament.

Last week, Transport and Infrastructure Parliamentary Portfolio Committee chairperson Oscar Gorerino queried the delays over the upgrade of the radar system.

“It is very dangerous to have a non-functional radar system. Why is it taking so long to be upgraded? There is a need for a change of strategy. What is worrying is the continuous change of tender awarding without matching progress on the ground,” he told a committee meeting.

However, top CHEC officials are said to have visited the country for high-level meetings.

According to diplomatic sources Beijing, which has revamped Zimbabwe’s major airports, has already lined up a comprehensive funding package for Zimbabwe’s critical airspace project which has faced perennial financing challenges and multiple tender award cancellations.

CHEC is one of China’s state-owned infrastructure companies and notably the second largest marine engineering company in the world with specialty in submarine and airspace surveillance infrastructure and infrastructure construction of all modes as seen through its deep involvement in the artificial island construction in the South China Sea.

CHEC is a Chinese government strategic firm formed in 1980 which was later placed under the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) in 2005 as a strategic asset when the Chinese government undertook its parastatal reforms.

It is the overseas arm of CCCC, which operates foreign markets on behalf of the Chinese government.

CCCC, CHEC’s parent group is the largest transport infrastructure company in the world and is highly rated in terms of financial clout even by Chinese state-owned company standards whilst its subsidiary CHEC is the second largest marine engineering company in the world and a key driver of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative.

CHEC was last year blacklisted by the United States government for its involvement in the South China Sea conflict. CHEC, which explores foreign markets on behalf of CCCC, is one of 24 Chinese multinational companies that were blacklisted by the US.

According to the US Commerce Department, the companies have been targeted “for their role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarise the internationally condemned artificial islands in the South China Sea”.

Chinese companies are dominating in major sectors of the economy such as mining, agriculture and infrastructure development. Zimbabwe Independent

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