Sunday, July 31, 2005

NYT on Zim-China trade


JOHANNESBURG, July 23 - His new 25-bedroom palace is clad in midnight-blue Chinese roof tiles. His air force trains on Chinese jets. His subjects wear Chinese shoes, ride Chinese buses and, lately, zip around the country in Chinese propjets. He has even urged his countrymen to learn Mandarin and nurture a taste for Chinese cuisine.

That President Robert G. Mugabe rules Zimbabwe, which resembles China about as much as African corn porridge tastes like moo shu pork, is irrelevant. Tightening his embrace of all things Chinese, the 81-year-old Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe's canny autocrat for 25 years, arrived in Beijing on Saturday for six days of talks with China's leaders, led by President Hu Jintao.

If this all seems nonsensical, however, it is anything but. Shunned by Western leaders and investors for his government's human rights policies, Zimbabwe has begun a determined campaign to hitch its plummeting fortunes to China's rising star....


The Chinese are widely reported to covet a stake in Zimbabwe's platinum mines, which have the world's second largest reserves, and Mr. Mugabe's government has hinted at a desire to accommodate them. The mines' principal operator denies being pressured to deal with the Chinese, but negotiations are under way to sell a stake to as-yet-unidentified Zimbabweans. The operator has postponed major spending on the mines, citing political uncertainty.

Meanwhile, from Angolan oil to Zambian copper mines, China is investing billions of dollars securing access to resources for its fast-growing economy. And because they show few scruples about their partners' human rights policies, the Chinese are becoming entrenched in some states, including Zimbabwe and Sudan, that bridle at Western criticism.....

China won a contract last year to farm 386 square miles of land seized from white commercial farmers during the land-confiscation program begun by Mr. Mugabe in 2000. Zimbabwe's air force has bought $200 million in Chinese-made Karakorum-8 trainer jets, a copy of the British Hawk trainers that the air force has had to ground because of parts shortages.

Rumors abound that China has sold Zimbabwe's internal-security apparatus water cannons to subdue protesters and bugging equipment to monitor traffic on the nation's three cellphone networks....

Zimbabweans complain, sometimes bitterly, that their new Chinese buses break down with alarming regularity and that the Chinese goods that flood stores and roadside stalls are so shoddy as to be worthless. Indeed, they have coined a term for the phenomenon: zhing-zhong.

"To call something zhing-zhong means that it is substandard," said Eldred Masunugure, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. "The resentment of the Chinese is not only widespread; it's deeply rooted. It's affecting even other Chinese-looking people, like the Japanese."

Professor Masunugure and others say that Harare's few Japanese residents complain of being taunted and called zhing-zhong. Harare newspapers report that high-yielding robberies of Harare's Chinese residents are on the upswing.

A solution, however, is in the wings: in a meeting last month, China and Zimbabwe signed a letter of intent to cooperate in law enforcement and the judiciary. Atop the list is a plan for China to train Zimbabweans in managing prisons.

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