By Frank Ching, Special to The China Post
Beijing has suffered a severe setback in Africa, where its standing is normally high, at a time when its image is taking a beating in the West, largely as a result of events in Tibet and the journey of the Olympic Torch around the world. China has enjoyed much support in Africa, in large part because it refuses to attach conditions while doing business or extending aid on the grounds that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
Western countries, on the contrary, often attach conditions to loans in an attempt to improve human rights. But recent events suggest that some African countries are taking a new look at China and its policy of ignoring human rights violations and crackdowns on opposition politicians. Last month, for example, a shipload of Chinese weapons bound for land-locked Zimbabwe, which is in the midst of a political crisis, was blocked by Zimbabwe’s neighbors, which would not allow the freighter An Yue Jiang to unload its cargo. Zimbabwe, which has an annual inflation rate of 100,000 percent, has been in crisis mode for weeks.
A presidential election was held March 29 but no results were announced for over a month, leading the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to claim that its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won.
But the Election Commission announced May 2 that the incumbent Robert Mugabe had won 43.2 percent of the vote, while Tsvangirai took 47.9 percent, with 8.9 percent going to an independent, Simba Makoni. It called for a runoff, which many fear would be rigged by Mugabe, who has led the country since independence in 1980. There are reports of people being tortured, abducted and murdered in a campaign of retribution against opposition supporters. Into this tinderbox, the Chinese freighter was going to dump three million rounds of ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of mortar rounds and mortar tubes. Interestingly, the blockage of the An Yue Jiang, dubbed the “Ship of Shame” by some in the media, was the result of a combination of non-governmental as well as governmental actions.
When the ship first anchored outside Durban on April 17, the South African government refused to act.