Arms ship exposes Robert Mugabe’s link to Chinese firm

Michael Sheridan – The Times (London)

Copyright The Times
April 27, 2008
The boycott of a Chinese ship laden with weapons for Zimbabwe has cast new light on the connections between the African country’s president, Robert Mugabe, and a secretive Chinese arms-trading firm with a controversial track record from the Congo to Darfur.
The ship steamed towards China last week after dock workers in Durban refused to unload it and a South African court blocked the transit of its cargo of mortar and small arms ammunition.
The 15,000-tonne An Yue Jiang is registered in the southern city of Guangzhou and has been operated for about 20 years by Cosco, a state-owned cargo line.
When Levy Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, called on every country in the region to reject it, the ship became an embarrassment to Beijing, which has made a huge political and financial investment in Africa.Company documents show that Poly Technologies, the manufacturer of the weapons on board the ship, is ultimately controlled by a clique from China’s preeminent military clans with close ties to the Communist party leadership and army.
Major General He Ping, the company’s chairman, is the son-in-law of Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader; its president, Wang Jun, is the son of a vice-president and a Deng ally. Its upper ranks are stuffed with military veterans and their offspring, who have greatly enriched themselves with arms sales to some of Africa’s bloodiest trouble spots.
Diplomatic sources say Mugabe forged links with the Poly Technologies management on state visits to China. Since Zimbabwe is all but bankrupt, the arms are paid for by barters of agricultural products and raw materials.
On paper, Poly Technologies is a subsidiary of the China International Trust and Investment Corporation. Analysts of Chinese financial affairs say, however, that Poly is actually a front for an elite within the country’s military-industrial complex and that it reports to the general staff department of the People’s Liberation Army.
“People call it the supreme headquarters of the China princeling party,” commented one analyst. “It’s a power centre beyond civilian control.”
Although Poly discloses almost no financial details, its customers for small arms and ammunition include Sudan and Burma. Chinese AK-47 assault rifles made by Poly have turned up in the war-torn eastern Congo, among other African battlefields. Its other sales include short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles to Iran and Pakistan.
In 1996 Poly was named by prosecutors in connection with an attempt to smuggle 2,000 AK47s into the United States.
“China has done nothing wrong with regard to weapons exports to Zimbabwe,” said Guo Xiaobing, a researcher quoted by the Guangzhou Daily, in the ship’s home port.
“This is only a topic for the western media to use to put pressure on China. There is no United Nations embargo on arms to Zimbabwe, so China’s business is legal.”
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