31 August 2007

Zimbabwe: China to Withdraw Support for Mugabe Regime

With shelves in the shops empty due to a serious shortage of basic commodities and crippling power and water cuts gripping the country, Robert Mugabe is about to face another bit of bad news.

One of his closest allies China, has announced they are dropping all assistance except humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe. The Chinese government has enjoyed lucrative construction projects and business deals in Zimbabwe for years now as Mugabe pursued his so-called "Look East" policy. China ignored human rights abuses in return and flooded Zimbabwe with cheaply made products that came to be known as "zhing-zhongs". But according to Friday's UK Daily Telegraph, the government of China has changed direction.

The Telegraph reported that Lord Malloch Brown, the British Foreign Office minister, was told by Chinese officials on Thursday that their government was dropping all assistance to Zimbabwe except humanitarian aid. This is a significant shift in policy because China has been protecting rogue states such as Zimbabwe and Sudan at the United Nations Security Council, using its position as a permanent member. Lord Malloch Brown is the Minister for Asia, Africa and the United Nations. He was in China for talks to try to bring peace to Darfur, which provides large amounts of oil to China.

The sudden shift is believed to be the result of pressure on China from the international community because of the Olympic games due there next year. Lord Malloch Brown is quoted as saying he hoped China would join the rest of the international community in refusing to "offer a lifeline" to Mugabe's failed regime.

Sidney Masamvu, a researcher on Southern Africa at the International Crisis Group, said China has simply weighed its diplomatic imperatives and decided Zimbabwe can easily be sacrificed. He said the Chinese are no longer benefiting that much economically from Zimbabwe and there was more for them to gain from siding with their partners on the UN Security Council. China has also changed its stance on the conflict in the Darfur region. They reportedly helped to pressure the Sudanese government to allow peacekeeping troops in the region.

Masamvu said this development shows there are many "back channel" diplomatic initiatives taking place, with the international community putting pressure on rogue states from many fronts. He explained that China needs the help of other Security Council members, all of whom provide humanitarian aid only to Zimbabwe.

It is largely believed that China provided the equipment being used by the Mugabe regime to jam our radio broadcasts into Zimbabwe. The Chinese have also supplied military equipment to Zimbabwe and the regime still considers China an ally. It will be interesting to see how Mugabe, a master of propaganda, responds to this sudden u-turn by his friends in the East.

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