China accused Zimbabwe on Tuesday of understating its financial help to the southern African nation, after budget figures released last week showed that major ally Beijing ranked poorly on the list of Harare's foreign donors.
Zimbabwe's authorities have a history of quietly racking up foreign debt without the approval of parliament and the funding discrepancy has led to questions from the critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government as to whether it is hiding figures or it has just made an accounting error.
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Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in a decade. Compounding the pain is a severe drought which has triggered food shortages and rolling power cuts.
In August, Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate hit 300 percent - the highest in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Wages have stagnated while prices for basic necessities like food and fuel have soared. Cash shortages - a problem for years - have worsened and foreign currency is hard to come by.
The litany of financial blows is making life unbearable for the majority of the 15 million people in the country.
In the absence of funding from lenders like the IMF and the World Bank, China has over the years become a major financier of projects in Zimbabwe, including water and power infrastructure through the China Export and Import Bank.
Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in a budget statement on Thursday that the country received $194m from bilateral donors between January and September, with the bulk of the money coming from Western countries.
He said China provided $3.6m, a figure that was criticised as paltry by opponents of Mnangagwa's government, which considers Beijing an "all-weather friend".
The Chinese embassy in Harare disputed the figure, saying in a statement: "This is very different from the situation on the ground."
The embassy said its records showed that bilateral financial support to Zimbabwe was far greater, at $136.8m between January and September. The figure excluded donations to vulnerable groups, the embassy said.
"The embassy wishes that the relevant departments of the Zimbabwean government will make comprehensive assessments on the statistics of bilateral supports and accurately reflect its actual situation when formulating budget statement," the embassy said in a terse statement.
Zimbabwe finance ministry spokesperson Clive Maphambela could not immediately comment on the discrepancy.