Lusaka - Zambia's new President Michael Sata, who made his name denouncing China's presence in the country, has vowed to ensure that ordinary Zambians benefit from Beijing's heavy investment in mining.
China has poured an estimated $6.1 billion (4.3 billion euros) into the southern African nation since 2007, equivalent to more than one third of gross domestic product last year.
That investment has financed a boom in mining in Africa's largest copper producer Ä the seventh largest in the world Ä but also stoked tensions with Zambians wary of Beijing's rapid rise.
Nearly two thirds of Zambians live on less than two dollars a day, and Sata has vowed to ensure that the poor benefit from the booming economy, which grew 7.6 percent last year on the back of strong mining growth.
But in his campaign this year, Sata avoided singling out the Chinese, rather saying that he would review the tax regime for all mining houses “to promote rapid investment and employment in the industry”.
“He's often come across as very populist and very aggressive in speaking out against the government and the fact that none of these resources have been made to ordinary Zambians, most of whom are still living in poverty,” said Matthew McDonald, a researcher at the Centre for Chinese Studies in South Africa.
“The opportunity is now at a policy level for a Zambian government... to start leveraging the influence they have with Chinese investors.”
That will be a tricky balancing act for Sata, who tapped popular anti-Chinese sentiment to recast outgoing president Rupiah Banda's economic success as a sell-out to foreign investors.
As Chinese banks and markets have opened on Lusaka's streets, poor Zambians have accused Chinese companies of importing their own workers even for jobs that Zambians could do, and of mistreating those locals they do employ.
The anti-Chinese sentiment was evident as Sata's supporters spilled into the streets during the night as his victory was announced.
“We are not happy about the Chinese!” one shirtless young man shouted over the din of car horns, chanting and singing.
“The condition of work is bad. We are in need of good salaries. We need to get something from this country.”
Another reveller told AFP: “They bring their own people to do work that we can do. They paint. They dig graveyards. They're taking away all our little salaries that we deserve.”
While Sata has benefited from such sentiments, he's also gradually toned down his rhetoric from his failed 2006 presidential bid, when he vowed to run the Chinese out of the country.
That has not eased the fears of the local Chinese community.
“Many people this time, we don't go outside. We just keep home,” a Chinese woman at a gated expatriate hangout, aptly named “Chinese Restaurant”, told AFP.
Senior officials at various Chinese companies said they had been told not to speak to the media and to stay at home during the period around the vote.
But political analysts say Sata has realised he has no choice but to work with the Chinese.
“Given the importance of China in the world economy today, I think he must have been advised that he tone down his rhetoric on the Chinese,” Neo Simutanyi, head of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, told AFP.
Now Sata's policy ideas fall well within the mainstream, even echoing proposals made by the International Monetary Fund, which in recent years has sanctioned higher mining taxes.
“The Chinese have the potential to be quite helpful,” said the IMF's Zambia representative, Perry Perone. “There is a very large financing need for public investment projects.” - Sapa-AFP