China hails Mugabe’s ‘brilliant’ diplomacy

The Financial Times

By Mure Dickie in Beijing and John Reed in Johannesburg – Copyright The Financial Times
Published: July 27 2005 03:00
Robert Mugabe may be a pariah in western nations these days but his image clearly remains untarnished in the eyes of Chinese diplomats, who on Tuesday named him an honorary professor.
Undismayed by criticism of Mr Mugabe’s urban eviction programme, which the United Nations says has made 700,000 poor people homeless, Beijing’s foreign affairs college instead hailed his “brilliant contribution” to diplomacy and international relations.
“[Mr Mugabe] is a man of strong convictions, a man of great achievements, a man devoted to preserving world peace [and] a good friend of the Chinese people,” gushed An Yongyu, Communist party secretary of the Foreign Ministry-controlled college.
Such praise and the warm welcome given Mr Mugabe by Hu Jintao, China’s president, underline Beijing’s willingness to embrace leaders widely shunned in the west as part of its efforts to build international influence and ensure access to key resources.
China signed a $600m (€499m, £344m) oil deal with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan in May, shortly after he ordered a bloody crackdown on demonstrators. It has also been expanding economic ties with Sudan, despite accusations that its government has been involved in genocide.
Elsewhere in Africa, China’s Eximbank last year approved a $2bn credit line for Angola, which, like Zimbabwe, has a poor human rights record but is the continent’s second largest oil producer. China, after the US, is a main customer.
At their meeting on Tuesday Mr Hu told Mr Mugabe that China and Zimbabwe were “sincere friends and trustworthy partners”. Beijing planned to expand diplomatic co-operation with Mr Mugabe’s government, Chinese state media quoted Mr Hu as saying before their joint signing of an economic co-operation agreement.
With no details of the pact announced, it was unclear whether China plans to be as generous with its money as it has been with its praise.
But there is no doubting the potential significance of Beijing’s backing for Mr Mugabe and for other beleaguered regimes. China’s economic boom has made it a key buyer of global commodities, in which many cash-strapped African states abound. Its financial clout, bolstered last week by a 2 per cent revaluation against the US dollar, has turned it into a significant investor in many developing countries.
Zimbabwe, which devalued its currency by 39 per cent against the dollar last week, is suffering critical shortages of basic goods and faces expulsion from the International Monetary Fund.
South African media have speculated that China might advance financing to Zimbabwe in exchange for concessions to mine some of its rich reserves of platinum, coal and other minerals.
Beijing’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council also makes it a potentially potent diplomatic ally. A UN report last week sharply criticised Operation Restore Order, its military-style urban resettlement programme, and the matter may be raised before the Sec urity Council. Zimbabwe says the clearances are an attempt to reform slums but the UN called them a “catastrophic injustice”.
China’s censored media have avoided such controversies during Mr Mugabe’s six-day state visit, his first since 1999. However, they have noted details of his career, such as his early work as an educator and anti-colonial freedom fighter.
He appears to have been in an excellent mood in Beijing. When giving a speech after receiving his honorary professorship, Mr Mugabe, 81, “spoke with such fervour, he completely lost track of the time”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

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