China slammed for arming Zimbabwe's Mugabe
China said Tuesday it may turn away a ship full of weapons headed for Zimbabwe's leader.
NAIROBI, KENYA; and BEIJING, CHINA
Hammered by criticism over its own human rights record and perhaps worried about its reputation ahead of the upcoming Summer Olympics, China signaled Tuesday that it might turn around a ship full of arms bound for its longtime ally, Zimbabwe.Skip to next paragraph
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The ship had docked first at South Africa's main port, Durban, where South African dock workers refused to offload the nearly 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and thousands of rounds of rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, all bound for the troubled regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia have also said the ship is not welcome in their ports.
The apparent withdrawal of the arms shipment by China comes at a time of growing criticism from African leaders for Mr. Mugabe's iron-fisted handling of his domestic opposition in the March 29 elections – where Mugabe's party fared badly in parliamentary elections and where the presidential results have still not been released.
"There is clearly a change among African leaders, with Zambia and Botswana changing their positions. The wall of silence toward Zimbabwe by Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is broken," says Marian Tupy, a Southern Africa expert at the Cato Institute in Washington. "But what the rest of the world thinks matters little to Mugabe," he adds.
China's history with Mugabe
For President Mugabe, China has been a longtime revolutionary friend in times of need.
During the decade-long war against the white-dominated government of Southern Rhodesia – as Zimbabwe used to be called – it was China that supplied Mugabe's ZANU-PF liberation army with arms, training, logistics, and funding.
But as China attempts to take a larger role on the global stage, particularly in Africa, it is increasingly sensitive to foreign opinions.
While a number of Western governments have criticized the arms shipment, "China is most conscious of African reactions," says Christopher Alden, an expert on Chinese-African relations at the London School of Economics. "This is a response to African governments' public criticism about potentially fueling a crisis."
Zambia, which chairs the SADC, had urged regional states to bar the An Yue Jiang ship from entering their waters.