In December 2017, when Zambian authorities recruited eight Chinese nationals into its police force, it predictably caused a stir locally and internationally. After a public uproar, the eight reservists were decommissioned.
The incident cast Zambia once again into the global spotlight for its relationship with China. For many analysts, this southern African country of 15 million people has become the ground zero for examining the relationship between the continent and its largest trading partner.
The relationship is nearly as old as post-colonial Zambia which gained independence in 1964. From the onset, China has been crucial as an alternative to the West. Landlocked and needing a connection to the coast that bypassed white-minority ruled neighbors, China helped to build and finance a 1,860-kilometer railway line between the port in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Kapiri Mposhi in central Zambia. When it was finished in the 1970s, it was China’s biggest infrastructure project internationally.