The China Zimbabwe Arms Deal: A storm in a teacup OR the tip of the iceberg?

The China Zimbabwe arms deal is a political hotcake that is getting hotter by the hour. Mozambique, finding that the attention was turning to them in respect of the shipment, was quick to point out that they had been tracking the movements of the An Yue Jiang and that they would never allow a ship bearing weaponry into there waters without prior approval. The Transport and Communications Minister, Paulo Zucula, said that he had confirmed that the destination given to the South African Department of Transport, was Luanda Angola.

The Angolan government has yet to respond. Hopefully their silence signifies that they are rethinking the entire situation. I would be surprised if they don’t. This is 77 tonnes of political hotcake you don’t want in your lap as a developing country right now. If you are sensible, that is…

The China Lie
China too has eventually deigned to comment, albeit in the form of a noncommittal fax to Reuters, which cursively read: “We do not understand the actual situation. China and Zimbabwe maintain normal trade relations. What we want to stress is China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms sales, and one of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

Clearly China too is trying to place some distance between them and a situation that has definitely graduated into being an international incident.

But for this giant country, there will be little reprieve.

1. Although China is trading in arms with Zimbabwe on a continuous basis, they can still (under very, very lenient circumstances), be given the benefit of the doubt, when they say: ‘We do not understand the actual situation.’ But, considering that China has ALSO deployed some of their very own Red Army Soldiers to Zimbabwe, the ‘We do not understand the actual situation’ excuse becomes thinner than paper thin.

I hold it to be an outright lie.

2. The portion of the message that read: “China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms sales…”, would have been laughable if you had ignored the gravity of the matter. Here are some examples to chew on:

a) The Big Red has been involved in many shady arms deals with destabilized countries: You may recall the Angolan Oil-for-Arms deal with China or even the Shenyang fighter planes, T-59 battle tanks, HY-2 Silkworm surface-to-surface missiles and rocket launchers supplied to Iran or even the 25,000 Chinese-made rifles and 18,000 grenades that they supplied in Nepal.
b) The Big Red is also one of the largest traders in illegal firearms (Norinco pistols in particular) in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and particularly in our very own country – South Africa.
c) The Big Red has refused to date to sign any multilateral agreements that will prevent the export of arms to areas likely to use these for serious human-rights violations.

I hold it to be an outright lie.


3. “ …and one of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries” In this particular part of the statement, China conveniently ignores their Red Army’s presence in Zimbabwe.

I hold it to be an outright lie.

China Africa’s Most UNWANTED element
Considering China’s secret history on the beleaguered African continent, their propensity for organized crime, their prevailing parasitical opportunism and the active role they play (albeit hidden from plain sight under most circumstances) in sowing (profitable-for-them) dischord, they are unwanted elements in Africa.

Whatever China touches turns to blood and poverty. This is something that we, who are busy trying to build a New Africa, certainly do not need…

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Zimbabwe: Arms Ship leaves harbour. New destination: Mozambique?

Durban High Court Judge, Kate Pillay, ruled that the Chinese ship, An Yue Jiang, which is bearing 77 tons in arms destined for Zimbabwe, may not be off-loaded and that the arms may not be transported via South Africa. Soon after the judgement was made, the ship lifted anchor and left Durban harbour.

Considering the complete absence of an appeal and that Captain Sunaijun told the media that he was awaiting instruction from his ‘owner’, one cannot help bit assume that both the wily Chinese government and the desperate Mugabe government have some sort of a contingency plan in place.

Feasibility of a Contingency Plan
A contingency plan could involve setting sail to one of Zimbabwe’s only other two sea bordering neighbours: Mozambique and Tanzania. Tanzania is a ‘civil’ neighbour but not friendly enough to be prepared to handle this particular international political hotcake.

Considering this, Mozambique could prove to be the most feasible alternative.

Robert Mugabe and the Frelimo president of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, have been firm friends since their freedom fighting days. They had shared enemies – the old Rhodesia, the old South Africa and the Imperialistic West – and shared friends – Cuba, communist USSR, North Korea and China.

It is reasonable to assume that Guebuza will probably be a little worried about repercussions (especially those appertaining to the substantial international grants the country is receiving), that could arise from transporting the arms through his country, but considering that he is highly unlikely to invoke his large South African neighbour’s political wrath, chances are really good that he will grant Mugabe the favour.

There are two ports in Zimbabwe that could potentially deal with the cargo: Maputo and Beira.

The challenge with using the larger, better equipped harbour of Maputo is that the cargo will still have to be transported by road to Beira before being loaded onto trains to Harare. The road between Maputo and Beira is not in a good condition, and there could also be some issues around finding enough trucks to get the job done.

Beira presents a far better option. Once the ship docks, the cargo could be transported by the Beira Railroad Corporation on the Machipanda line which runs through Malverna (Port of Entry between Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and which ends in Harare. The only other available railway line which runs from Beira, the Sena Line, will not be used, as it is not fully operational yet after it was partly destroyed by Renamo during the 80s.

Stopping the Shipment: What are the options?
The SALC: The SALC indicated that should the An Yue Jiang sail to Mozambique, they will seek remedy from the Mozambique courts. The challenge here is that the laws of that country may be insufficient in respect of matters such as these. There is also a very real chance that the courts could be influenced by Armando Guebuza not to grant such an application, even if the application could be granted under Mozambique law.
The Mbeki factor: As an influential economic partner of Mozambique, President Thabo Mbeki could exert diplomatic pressure on President Armando Guebuza not to allow the cargo to cross his soil. Considering that some of Mbeki’s cabinet members (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defence, Secretary of Defence) were some of the respondents in the urgent High Court applications yesterday, and that he has done less than nothing to manage the entire debacle the chances of Mbeki intervention is close to non-existent.
International pressure: Mozambique is the beneficiary of World Bank and IMF funding – funds that the country simply cannot do without. Both institutions could use this reliance on funding to stop Mozambique from allowing the weapons to be transported through the country. The World Bank and the IMF may however feel that it is neither ethical nor appropriate to hold a sovereign country hostage in this way.

These three options are the only options available and none of them are great.

The best outcome will be if Mozambique – in view of international sentiment – had to offer China and Zimbabwe a polite, but firm “NAY! Considering how quickly the ship rushed away, there is a really good chance that they may have already secured a polite and firm “AYE!” instead.