/ 29 July 2005

US to take China to task over Zimbabwe

The United States expressed concern on Thursday over China’s increasingly close ties with Zimbabwe at a time when the international community is trying to isolate the African state for gross human rights and other violations.

”We will be raising with the Chinese our concerns that Mugabe needs to reform his economic and political policies,” Michael Ranneberger, a senior State Department official, said at a congressional hearing where lawmakers criticised Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s visit to Beijing. Mugabe left China on Friday.

The 81-year-old Mugabe, who is barred from travelling to the European Union, United States and Australia, among other nations, was warmly greeted as ”an old friend” by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Several economic and technical agreements have been signed during his six-day visit that analysts say could help to prop-up the Zimbabwean economy, saddled with triple digit inflation, unemployment of over 70% and $4,5-billion in foreign debt.

Mugabe is looking for hard currency to relieve shortages of fuel and food and to head off possible expulsion from the International Monetary Fund for failing to pay debts.

China this week opposed discussion at the United Nations Security Council of a damning UN report into Zimbabwe’s demolition campaign that left 700 000 Zimbabweans homeless and destitute and affected a further 2,4-million.

Ranneberger said that in troubled nations like Sudan and Zimbabwe, the United States wanted ”to ensure that foreign investment does not serve to support those governments at a time when major human rights violations are occurring”.

He said Washington had previously ”made these concerns clear in relation to Chinese investment in Sudan, and activities in Zimbabwe, including diplomatic support, economic and trade deals, and close military ties”.

Representative Chris Smith from New Jersey charged that China was considering a financial bailout plan for Zimbabwe that reportedly involved mineral and other trade concessions in exchange for the economic help.

Smith, deputy head of the House of Representatives international relations panel, said China’s purported move to bail the Zimbabwe government out of its economic mess ”undercuts” efforts by neighbour South Africa and the United Nations to get Mugabe to halt the destruction of his country’s opposition area housing and businesses.

South African President Thabo Mbeki had earlier agreed to negotiate a bailout of the Zimbabwe economy under the condition that the Zimbabwe ruling party resumes cooperation talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and make necessary democratic and governance reforms.

”This Zimbabwe deal is an example of the danger of Chinese influence undoing the progress that has been made in Africa,” he said.

Other lawmakers said China’s growing political and commercial influence in resource-rich African nations was sabotaging efforts by Western nations to promote transparency, improved governance and democracy in the continent.

Carolyn Bartholomew from the US China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Congress-mandated group, said Mugabe was ”looking to China because the larger international community has shunned him due to his blatant human rights abuses”.

She said despite economic problems, Mugabe’s government had ordered 12 FCI fighter jets from Beijing — China’s most advanced military aircraft order from an African nation — which she felt could spark an arms race in Sub-Saharan Africa. – Sapa-AFP