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Enter the (friendly and humanitarian) Dragon

Democracy is a ­lascivious cad. An incorrigible dandy, he struts through the poorer neighbourhoods of the world, ­twirling his moustache and hopping deftly over cowpats, all the while sizing up the blushing, naïve ­daughters of dictators and tyrants, until he spies one who watches too long, smiles too widely. Come with me, he whispers up to her window, and I will give you the world.

Flattery leads to infatuation, which in turn leads to rebellion: her father’s attempts to put an end to the liaison with such ­traditional paternal techniques as baton charges, tear gas and public ­hangings merely fuel her desire ­further. She skips through the streets, 100 love songs resonating in her delirious mind. Democracy lifts us up where we belong. All you need is democracy. Before she goes to bed she secretly listens to ­Whitney ­Houston belting out ”And I will always democratise you …”

But inevitably the romance fades. Four or five years into their ­marriage he has stopped wooing her, and she waits in vain for ­chocolates and roses and poverty alleviation and service delivery. ­Suddenly all the old love ­letters start looking like lies.

Consider one such perfumed ­letter, titled ”Foreign policy perspective in a democratic South Africa”, written by a tumescent African National Congress in December 1994, probably on a crumpled bed as doves wooed outside and light streamed through shutters and a ceiling fan draped with underwear slowly revolved.

”South Africa will … hold human rights issues central to foreign policy,” it gushed. The world was beautiful, and Zimbabwe was a moderately functioning state.

”Human rights concerns will also influence the shape of our bilateral relations,” it continued. ”In this we shall not be selective nor, indeed, be afraid to raise human rights ­violations with countries where our own and other interests might be negatively affected. South Africa’s experience … shows how ­damaging policy can be when issues of ­principle are sacrificed to economic and political expediency.”

Ah yes, says Democracy, lighting a cigarette. Principles. He remembers those. Used to bring one home every so often for the wife, in the beginning. She loved them, said he was so noble. Stupid cow. He tosses a roll of bills at the girl on the bed and does up his pants.

So why isn’t he ashamed of his deceit? Why does he now oil his way through the singles bars of Central Africa, whispering and groping and coaxing the daughters of anarchy without the slightest twinge of guilt? What of long-time sweetheart Zimbabwe, led to believe in that larcenous love letter in 1994 that he would come to her aid if ever her father Robert stopped taking his pills and started listening to the Satanic urgings of the naked Ken doll he kept in his trunk?

Simple. He’s off the hook: the ­people of Zimbabwe have found someone else to screw them.

The Chinese have never talked big. In fact, as a nation they are ­remarkably taciturn, a wise policy when one’s language sounds like a cat being strangled with violin strings while trying to cough up a hairball. But this apparently demure nature belies a history of grandeur, pomp and ping pong that rivals the mightiest triumphs of the West.

Indeed, by 1430 the Chinese fleet — or, as they called it, ”the Chinese freet” — dwarfed those of Europe in size, range and inscrutability. But the Ming emperor of the day ­mysteriously vetoed naval ­expansion, perhaps the sign of a developed aesthetic sensibility, deciding it would rather pass up an empire than get messily seasick on its silk slippers.

No longer. The wait is over, and it was worth it: colonialism is a thing of the past, relegated to a dark, ­usefully malleable history of ­British rapine. And since colonialism is history, it follows that the arrival in Zimbabwe of the Democratic ­People’s Republic cannot be colonisation. No, the Chinese are in Zimbabwe as investors, as humanitarians, as pals. Pals who need Harare bulldozed to clear the way for Chinese businesses.

First ashore with the flag in November last year was Mr Wu Bangguo, the chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is so named because all its members are too afraid to be the first to sit down.

”The two economies of China and Zimbabwe are strongly complementary,” he said, revealing a clear and refreshingly honest grasp of the economics of massive exploitation: if South African textile workers think they’ve got it bad now, wait until Chinese labour practice ­discovers the possibilities presented by ­desperate Zimbabweans willing to work 18-hour shifts for half a potato.

It’ll be love at first sight …

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