China’s deep ties to Zimbabwe could grow after Mugabe era

In this file photo taken on Aug. 25, 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shows Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe the way during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (AP)
Updated 21 November 2017

China’s deep ties to Zimbabwe could grow after Mugabe era

HONG KONG: Under Robert Mugabe’s decades-long rule over Zimbabwe, China grew into one of the African nation’s biggest investors, trading partners and diplomatic allies.
Now, as Zimbabwe appears on the verge of its first transition of power since independence, Beijing is poised to be among the biggest winners.
A look at the increasingly close relationship between the two countries:

Mugabe began drawing closer to China’s communist leaders under a “Look East” policy when Western countries imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2001 over land seizures and human rights concerns. “We have turned East, where the sun rises, and given our backs to the West, where the sun sets,” he famously said.
Mugabe has made frequent visits to Beijing, and sent his daughter Bona to university in Hong Kong. China, meanwhile, has vetoed UN Security Council sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Both sides portray the relationship as one between “all-weather friends.” But “behind the scenes, things are a little bit different,” said Derek Matyszak, a Harare-based senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.
“Relations between China and Mugabe have been quite fractious over the past year and a half, and the current situation is going to make things worse,” he said.
China is unhappy about Mugabe’s mismanagement of Zimbabwe’s economy and is believed to favor as his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who’s seen as more of an “economic pragmatist,” Matyszak said.
Mnangagwa was elected Sunday as the new leader of Zimbabwe’s ruling party and is positioned to take over as the country’s leader.

Zimbabwe’s army commander, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, visited Beijing in early November, around the same time Mnangagwa disappeared. The Chinese Foreign Ministry called it a “normal military exchange,” but the timing raised suspicions that it was anything but.
The countries’ military links date back to the 1960s, when China helped train and supply guerrilla fighters from the Zanu’s military wing in the fight for liberation. Mnangagwa, 75, was part of that effort — he received military training in China in 1963, soon after he joined the fight against white minority rule in then-Rhodesia.
These days, China is a key supplier of military hardware to Zimbabwe. Major sales in recent years include a radar system, jet trainers and fighters, military vehicles and AK-47 assault rifles.
A Chinese company built the National Defense College in Harare, which opened in 2014 and was financed with an interest-free $98 million loan from China. The college, the biggest of its kind in the country, trains soldiers, intelligence operatives and police from Zimbabwe and other Southern African countries.
“China, of course, wants Zimbabwe to maintain a peaceful and stable political environment,” said Wang Xinsong, a longtime observer of China-Zimbabwe relations at Beijing Normal University. “China’s best interest lies in ensuring a peaceful and smooth transfer of power without major turmoil.”

Once known as the “breadbasket of Africa,” Zimbabwe’s decline accelerated with the seizure of white-owned farms, sending the economy into a tailspin with skyrocketing inflation and widespread unemployment and poverty.
The lack of a clear succession plan for the 93-year-old Mugabe as well as an industrial nationalization plan have contributed to political uncertainty and spooked overseas investors. Zimbabwe’s foreign direct investment fell for a second straight year in 2016, slumping by a quarter to $319 million, according to the latest UN World Investment Report.
Analysts believe one major reason Mnangagwa is popular with China is that he is seen as more investor-friendly than Mugabe.
“Of course, we must know that the investment can only go where it gets a return,” Mnangagwa said in an interview with state-run China Central Television during a visit to Beijing in 2015. “So we must make sure we create an environment where investors are happy to put their money because they will have a return.”
Chinese investors are likely holding off while they wait for a resolution, experts said.
“Chinese businessmen will become more prudent,” said Zhang Chun, an expert in African studies at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Studies. “For those that are prepared to make an investment there, they will delay their projects.”

A big source of tension between Beijing and Harare was Mugabe’s abrupt move to nationalize Zimbabwe’s diamond mines.
Two Chinese companies, Anjin Investments and Jinan Mining, had partnered with the military and become big players in the Marange diamond field in Zimbabwe’s east.
Mugabe, however, moved last year to revoke licenses from the Chinese and other foreign mining companies and consolidate all operations into a single company half-owned by Zimbabwe’s government. He had apparently become alarmed that the government was missing out on revenue, blaming private companies after only $2 billion of an anticipated $15 billion had flown into government coffers since the field was discovered in 2006.
The Institute for Security Studies’ Matyszak speculated that Mnangagwa could reverse that move, winning favor with both the military and China in the process.
Chinese tobacco company Tianze, meanwhile, has given interest-free loans and training to farmers, many of whom work on land seized from white farmers, to help beef up production and help fill cigarette demand back home.
The Beijing Automotive Group teamed up this year with two local partners in a joint venture, Beiqi Zimbabwe, selling Grand Tiger pickup trucks assembled from kits to compete with pricier imports.

China has helped build and pay for some big-budget infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe, including $46 million to fund the construction of the country’s new parliament building in Harare last year.
Chinese state-owned Sinohydro is building $2 billion worth of expansion projects at Zimbabwe’s two main, aging power stations to help deal with chronic electricity shortages. Chinese companies have also built a $150 million expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport and upgraded Zimbabwe’s busiest highway.
Other deals announced during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 included building a pharmaceutical warehouse, expanding the national fiber optic broadband network and supply wildlife monitoring gear.

China and Zimbabwe have been growing closer in other ways too, although results have been uneven.
In 2015, Zimbabwe sold China 35 elephants that were moved to wildlife parks in Shanghai, Beijing and Hanghzhou. But animal conservation groups raised concerns about the plan over fears that the animals would be split up from their herds and end up living under poor conditions.
China also has an image problem among many ordinary Zimbabweans, who see it mainly as a supplier of cheap but shoddy products like shoes and kettles that have been labeled with derogatory names for their famously short-lived lifespans.
The Mugabe family has been involved in a legal dispute over a multimillion-dollar Hong Kong property, and made headlines there in 2009 when Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, allegedly assaulted a photographer during a shopping trip. She left the specially administered Chinese city without being charged.

Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

A woman carries a placard as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalising abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 May 2018

Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

  • Exit polls says 68 percent of voters back change
  • The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment

DUBLIN: Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe’s strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a “yes” vote would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland’s commitment to protect the unborn.
The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office.
The newspaper exit poll indicated overwhelming support for change. The survey by pollster Ipsos-MRBI says 68 percent of voters backed repeal of the ban and 32 percent opposed it. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The poll is only a prediction.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first to arrive at a church polling station in Dublin.
“I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this,” she said.
Emma Leahy said her “yes” vote comes from her firm belief that everyone should be able to make their own choice when it comes to abortion.
“For Ireland, it’s hope for the future,” she said of the referendum. “Whether you agree or disagree, it shouldn’t be the government or anyone else making that decision.”
Vera Rooney voted against repeal.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk. Having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.
If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favor of repeal.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding that the upside of a sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.
Thousands of Irish people abroad traveled home to take part in the historic referendum, and supporters of repeal gathered at Dublin Airport to give arrivals an ecstatic welcome.
Some activists held a placard reading “Thank you for making the journey so other women don’t have to” — a reference to the way Irish women seeking abortions have had to leave the country to obtain them.
Tara Flynn, who 11 years ago flew to the Netherlands for an abortion, said she planned to vote “yes” to make sure future generations of women don’t endure what she did, with feelings of isolation and shame.
She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, “a vote to say, I don’t send you away anymore.”
Campaigning was not allowed Friday, but Dublin was still filled with signs and banners urging citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Many of the anti-abortion signs showed photographs of fetuses.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s remote islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained several emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’ every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill.”