The Chinese freighter arrived in South Africa last week, and human rights groups and others said they feared the mortar grenades and bullets onboard could be used by President Robert Mugabe’s regime to clamp down on its opposition.
A South African group persuaded a judge to bar the weapons from transiting through the country to landlocked Zimbabwe. and the An Yue Jiang then sailed away from South Africa. Private groups and government officials in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia also objected to the weapons, though Namibia said the ship could refuel there if necessary.
The South African opposition party Democratic Alliance has protested the shipment and said China is damaging its reputation by supporting Mugabe. From South Africa’s Independent Online:
DA foreign affairs spokesperson Tony Leon said he had written to the Chinese ambassador in South Africa, Zhong Jianhua, asking his government to halt all weapons shipments until Zimbabwe had a legitimate government.
His letter emphasised how China was damaging its international standing by supporting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial rule.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu defended the shipment to reporters today, according to China Daily:
Jiang added the trade contract was signed last year and irrelevant to Zimbabwe’s recent domestic situation.
She said China always took a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms trade and strictly abided by the principle of non-interference with a receiving country’s sovereignty, expressing her hope the countries concerned would not politicize the issue.
African newspapers and civil society groups are condemning both China and South Africa for their role in trying to facilitate the transfer of weapons. From the Johannesburg-based Business Day:
Assuming President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) manage to manipulate the election results to force a rerun, the military and the police will need all the firepower they can get to quell any post-election popular uprising. Indeed, many commentators have warned of the potential for a Rwanda-type genocide.
Against this background it is incredible that the South African government was prepared to allow the transit of the An Yue Jiang weapons across South African soil. The speed with which a transit permit was issued, even before the cargo had been inspected or the ship had docked, beggars belief. The contention that because there is no arms embargo in force against Zimbabwe the transshipment could not be blocked is unacceptable in the light of the provisions of SA’s own Conventional Arms Control Act.
The U.S. government has also reportedly encouraged Zimbabwe’s neighbors in southern Africa to refuse the shipment, according to this AP report. For more on the current situation in Zimbabwe, read articles from the Economist and the Christian Science Monitor. More on this topic via Google News.