Hello all! First, I am most pleased to announce that I have finally emerged from the depths of dissertation writing and, as of yesterday afternoon, am more or less a free woman. This, I hope will translate to more consistent and frequent blog updates. Indeed, many developments have taken place during my absence. I surely cannot even so much as begin to do them all justice in this one entry, so I'll begin with my personal favorite: the Chinese arms shipment to Zimbabwe.
Earlier this month, a shipment of ammunition, rockets and mortar bombs was denied access through South Africa. The weapons were en route to Zimbabwe, and it is believed that they would be used to crush the Zimbabwean opposition following the 29 March 2008 election. On 22 April Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu noted that the shipment is "normal" and that it is common in international trade to transport goods inland to African countries through the port in Durban, South Africa.
So many questions can be asked of this one comment that it's actually quite phenomenal. The first that comes to mind is: who in the Chinese government allows for such statements to be made? Anyone who has been tracking African politics in the past month or so can very quickly gauge that the uproar has little to do with the shipment's entry point. It has to do with the shipment itself, and the political situation in its destination state. If nothing else, China's position on the matter is indicative of a seeming ignorance of foreign affairs, which is quickly damaging China's international standing.
But, of course, the Chinese are not ignorant and are well aware of the Zimbabwean plight. By continuing with business as usual they are likely trying to live up to their 'non-interference' policy, which has long fallen by the wayside. As Christopher Clapman observes in his new book (written together with Chris Alden and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira), "In the longer term, no external power with long-term interests in Africa can escape the issue of 'governance', because this is the essential precondition for maintaining stable economic relationships." In case the Chinese haven't yet reconciled themselves to this reality, it's high time they do so - and fast.
Indeed, there is much speculation over China's motives behind such a shipment, at such a time. Some blame political alliances, enmeshed as they are in unthinkable levels of corruption. Others point to economics and international trade between the two countries. Yet no one, it seems, has the gall to suggest another, more likely, alternative: the Chinese simply don't care.
Despite their claims of foreign aid assistance, concern for human rights, etc., etc. there is very little proving that the Chinese actually have any interest in such matters. As in Darfur before, the Chinese are little concerned with assisting the people of Zimbabwe or helping to alleviate the situation. To the extent that any assistance will be given, it will be nothing more than a token gesture that will have little to no tangible impact. The arms deal with Zimbabwe is, above all else, profitable for the Chinese. Profit aside, little else matters. China isn't going to be a hero for the African people. Not now, not ever. And with this recent arms shipment the proof, it seems, is in the pudding.