Mugabe wins at Beijing bingo

It is a mutual admiration society to which the West is definitely not invited.

The leaders of China and Zimbabwe whispered sweet nothings about shared history, common foes and future co-operation during a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing this week.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, praised Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe as “an old friend of the Chinese people whom we respect very much”. Mugabe, for his part, said he felt “very much at home”.

The political love-in came as 90-year-old Mugabe made his 13th trip to China in what critics describe as a desperate attempt to attract investment to rescue a sinking economy. China’s GDP of $8.227-trillion in 2012 dwarfs Zimbabwe’s of $10.81-billion.

For years Mugabe, accused by the West of electoral fraud and human rights violations, has been pushing a “Look East” policy for business. Now this appears to include persuading the population of Zimbabwe, a former British colony – where cricket is still played and O-levels and A-levels are still studied – to become more familiar with Chinese culture.

Mutual admiration
An article last week by Lin Lin, the Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe, in the state-owned Herald newspaper, noted that a recent Night of Beijing performance in Harare had “fascinated and left unforgettable memories in the hearts of an audience of over 3?000”.

The Chinese embassy and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had co-hosted the “first ever China-Zimbabwe quiz show to further increase the mutual knowledge and understanding between the two peoples”, Lin Lin continued.

And now a professional crew from China Central Television is in Zimbabwe to shoot a tourism promotion documentary that will “attract more Chinese people’s eyes to this wonderland”.

On Monday, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan greeted Mugabe and his wife Grace with full military honours. A band played the two national anthems as a 21-gun salute was fired and the two presidents inspected a military honour guard. Children held flowers and miniature flags of both countries to welcome the two leaders, who held a meeting behind closed doors that lasted for hours, the Herald reported.

An unusually effusive Xi said: “I stand ready to work with you, your excellency, to comprehensively deepen our bilateral relationship and make sure the relationship will create benefits for people in both countries.”

Mugabe responded with thanks, saying: “We are prepared on our part to continue our historical relations and even build on them as we develop our economies and Zimbabwe will naturally as before, being a smaller country, be the beneficiary of this relationship and so I want to assure you of our reciprocal undertaking that we will do our best to reciprocate your friendship.”

The leaders oversaw the signing of nine agreements, including on economic, trade and tourism co-operation and emergency food donations and loans on concession from China to the Southern African nation. No figures were provided.

Zimbabwe’s relations with China and the Communist Party of China date back to the liberation struggle of the 1970s, when Beijing provided arms and trained some of the top guerrilla leaders.

China invested more in non-financial sectors in Zimbabwe than in any other country on the continent last year, exceeding $602-million, the official Xinhua news agency cited Chinese government figures as saying. At least two China-linked firms, Anjin Investments and Jinan Mining, have operated concessions at Zimbabwe’s hugely controversial Marange diamond fields.

Others have been accused of abusive treatment of workers.

Since Mugabe’s disputed election win last year, foreign investment has plunged, hundreds of manufacturing companies have closed and unemployment in the country stands at an estimated 80%.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that Zimbabwe would allow China to bypass the normal state tender process for major projects in return for quick funding.

Mugabe is subject to sanctions by the United States and the European Union and was one of only a handful of African leaders not invited to Barack Obama’s US-Africa summit in Washington earlier this month. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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