Friday, April 18, 2008

Arrogant China Sends Arms To Zimbabwe

Written from Richards Bay, South Africa--

China seems determined to arouse world opinion against it, endangering the Beijing Olympics.

The latest example of this, and it is not a minor one, is the arrival in South Africa of a ship laden with Chinese arms destined for the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Let it be said right away, it is a sign of a developing crisis in southern Africa that the South African regime of Thabo Mbeke originally said it would let the arms go through, that there is no arms embargo on Zimbabwe, which has refused to recognize the results, or even release the results, of an election held several weeks ago. This showed the insensitivity of the Mbeke government toward democracy in this region, and was, I think, a gross mistake comparable to Mbeke's downplaying AIDS as a continuing tragedy in South Africa. But there were subsequent developments that prove South Africa remains fundamentally a democratic state in the post-Mandela period. Dockworkers in Durban Harbor refused to unload the arms, including 3 million rounds of ammunition, from the Chinese ship, and an Anglican group successfully petitioned a South African court to uphold the dockworkers. The ship has now had to sail on to Mozambique, which also borders Zimbabwe, in an attempt to unload its cargo. But there are reports the dockworkers in Mozambique may refuse to unload and tranship the cargo there as well.

Of course, it is the Chinese who are primarily culpable for buttressing the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. This is the latest example of Chinese misbehavior which needs to be taken down a peg by the rest of the world. In the months leading up to the Olympics, for which the Chinese profess but do not show great regard, Communist China has sided with repression in Zimbabwe, genocide in the Darfur region of The Sudan, and the military junta in Burma, as well as mistreating North Korean refugees in China and trying to crush dissidents in Tibet, a country the Chinese have no right to, but have occupied now for half a century.

At the same time, the xenophobic Chinese regime continues to suppress any kind of dissent at home. And when foreigners protest these policies, then the Chinese threaten boycotts against Western companies, as they are now doing in reprisal for French demonstrations against China in the recent torch relay in Paris.

The fact is, if this continues, the Olympics really ought not to be held in Beijing. The Chinese promised, when they obtained the 2008 Games, that they would ease repressive policies. Instead, this year, they have gotten far worse.

It is wrong too for the French Olympic Committee to tell French athletes bound for Beijing that they may not wear badges calling for a more peaceful world. If this is the price of staging the Olympics, then the hell with them.

China increasingly is showing contempt for humanitarian values. There must and should be a response.

My African cruise is now leaving South Africa, which I found a beautiful country with many problems. I had a terrific time here, traveling high into the mountains, out of Durban, into the remote Kingdom of Lesotho, over a 9,400-foot pass, visiting the Cape of Good Hope from Cape Town, and going to a remarkable big game refuge from Richards Bay, where we saw huge numbers of African elephants, which are bigger than Asian ones or any seen routinely in U.S. zoos, giraffe, rhinos, crocodiles and other wildlife.

But guides told us that unemployment in South Africa is running 25%, and at a higher rate in the black population, and that AIDS now afflicts anywhere from one third to 40% of the South African population. Two thousand people a day are now dying of AIDS in South Africa, and the prospect is that millions more will die in the years ahead. Indeed, the black population of South Africa is now declining. And the Mbeke regime continues to resist treating this epidemic as the national tragedy it is.

Again, this is such a beautiful country in many ways that I'd like to come back with my entire family. But unless it is careful, it could slide backward.

A guide, by the way, told us a good Mugabe joke. According to this story, some of Mugabe's own administration advised him to "say goodbye to the Zimbabwean people. " "Why?" Mugabe is said to have responded. "Are they leaving?"

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