China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is to station an elite special force in Zimbabwe, according to a report by Spotlight Zimbabwe.
This move is viewed as an attempt by Beijing to increase military cooperation with Harare.
In addition, the Washington-led establishment is concerned with the on-going reports that China also received greenlight to build a secret underground airbase in Zimbabwe. Initial reports of the plans for the base began as early as December 2014.
The elite special force that is allegedly to be stationed would most likely be concerned with protecting the upcoming Chinese military base, as well as its diamond and gold mine claims across the country.
According to another report by Spotlight Zimbabwe, China also placed surface-to-air missile in Zimbabwe.
“This is a very serious and sensitive issue,” an anonymous Asian diplomat was cited back in August 2018. “They (China) are deploying HQ-9 missiles in your country at strategic locations nationwide, and the Zimbabwe military seems to have signed up to the agreement, which will strengthen its ability to defend this country by default with China’s help.”
“The missile system is very advanced and similar to what they are using to protect the South China Sea Islands. This country has become very important to Beijing otherwise, they would not be moving heavy military equipment here. The former leader (Mugabe) was holding back against the idea of strong Chinese military presence in Zimbabwe, but a few months before he was removed from office last year, new and revised military cooperation agreements had been signed, therefore explaining the greenlight given to the deployment of the HQ-9.”
Spotlight Zimbabwe also cited a former minister with a security related portfolio in one of ex-leader President Robert Mugabe’s administrations whose story was also confirmed by unnamed Asian diplomatic sources in South Africa. According to the sources, China has been working on sending the elite special force to Zimbabwe since 2014 “to offer technical assistance and support” to the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), and an agreement was finally reached the following year between the two countries through their defence ministries and army leadership, but Mugabe called it off, after accusing the Chinese of corruption, and the plunder of diamonds in Marange.
Mugabe also allegedly was suspicious of now President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s relationship with China.
“They (China) have been itching to set a permanent military presence in this country, to protect their vast economic interests here but Mugabe was resisting the overtures,” said the anonymous former cabinet minister. “Although the cover argument was around offering technical assistance and support to our armed forces, it later became clear that Mnangagwa had his own agreement and arrangements with China. This infuriated Mugabe, and it was also during the same period Mnangagwa had first travelled to China as vice president, holding high level meetings which his boss had not fully been briefed on. The incident increased Mugabe’s political mistrust for Mnangagwa, whom he suspected was presenting himself to President Xi Jinping, as the best political actor to secure China’s investments in Zimbabwe after he steps down. The rest is history. Mnangagwa has since invited China back to mine diamonds in Marange, and their special force has received the greenlight from vice president Rtd General, Constatino Chiwenga, to find a station in the country. Now there is every reason to believe that Mugabe’s November 2017 ouster, could have been a result of China viewing his stay in power as a threat to their economic investments, especially after having stripped them of diamond mining rights.”
Diplomatic sources said VP Chiwenga was allegedly at the heart of consenting to China bringing in their elite force to set camp in Zimbabwe.
“The main protagonist is your vice president,” said one of the anonymous envoys based in Pretoria. “VP Chiwenga has remained in regular contact with top officials from the People’s Liberation Army. He met with Chinese defence minister in 2015, when he was the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, where stronger cooperation was forged and an agreement signed to have the special force come to Zimbabwe. It also blends well with his ambitions to takeover power, when his time comes. The army unit headed for Zimbabwe comes from China’s special ground force called PLASF (People’s Liberation Army Special Operations Forces).”
Speculations of Chinese influence in the Zimbabwean army was reinforced by a video that circulated in 2018 showing Chinese soldiers singing a native Shona war cry song alongside Zimbabwean soldiers.
China also continues to invest heavily in Zimbabwe, and President Mnangagwa is also supportive of its Belt and Road Initiative.
“In the past, there was the Silk Road, and that to a greater extent did not embrace the entire continent. Zimbabwe was only lucky to the extent that 800 to 1000 years ago there was trade between the Munhumutapa Kingdom and China when we imported porcelain and silk from here and in turn you got our ivory. But today the Road and Belt Initiative has taken everybody on board so that our economies can talk to each other, so that our economies can help each other modernize and mechanize. We are getting connected and benefiting from each other. If you look at the current FOCAC meeting, there are 10 issues that we are going to deal with and these issues are really primary issues that show developing countries like Zimbabwe. The issue of transportation, the issue of infrastructure development in our countries . . . we believe that with this relationship under FOCAC where the rest of Africa is making conversations with China, and China helping Zimbabwe and Africa to go up. And when that happens it creates the integration of marketing in China and Africa so we are happy that we are part of this global vision,” he said.
In 2018, China invested $3 billion in Zimbabwe, this is a relatively small amount compared to what Beijing invests in some other African countries. However, acting Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe, Zhao Baogang and Zimbabwe’s ambassador to China Paul Chikawa that this was about to change.
Zhao said the Chinese embassy would ensure that Zimbabwe this time enjoys a significant portion of the US$60 billion which Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to finance projects in Africa in the form of assistance, investment and loans at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in Beijing in September 2018.
“This is the year of action by the Chinese government and business here,” Zhao said.
Chikawa said two Chinese companies from Sichuan Province in China have expressed interest in investing in lithium mining. “I am due to meet potential investors from Sichuan province. They are interested in lithium. But in our conversations, I have made it clear that we would rather have the whole value chains. So, I can confirm that my office has been approached in respect of this,” he said.
Two more companies are also planning to invest in mining according to Zhao. Other companies from various sectors are also planning to invest in Zimbabwe, according to the ambassador.
Zimbabwe also announced that it is launching its China Ready Training Programme.
“The training programme is a collaboration between the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry through the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) and one of China’s leading experts in market representation, training, audit, promotion and accreditation, Welcome China.”
Speaking at the launch in Harare recently, Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Prisca Mupfumira said tourist arrivals from China had increased tremendously over the years.
“Anyone ignoring China at this moment can do so at their own peril given that the country is now globally acknowledged as a vital source market,” she said.
“On the home front, Zimbabwe tourist arrivals from China grew from 14 407 arrivals in 2017 to 19 428 in 2018. The country is definitely destined for better prospects now that we have taken a giant step as a destination to become China Ready.”
As a result, is no surprise if China does in fact provide some protection for its extensive mining plans in the country.
The US continues to oppose Chinese investments in Africa, calling them predatory and that it is setting a “debt-trap” for countries to fall into.
Beijing (and Moscow) are increasingly assertive and “pose a significant threat to US national security interests” in resource-rich Africa, White House national security advisor John Bolton said in a speech.
Their “predatory practices” stunt economic growth and independence, while hampering US trade and military goals.
Bolton is also trying to gain momentum for his anti-China campaign at the UN, which also involves hampering its movements in Africa.
In addition, General Stephen Townsend, expected to become the new AFRICOM Commander also pitched his plan to counter the Chinese (and Russian) influence in Africa.
According to him, the Chinese efforts to establish a telecommunications infrastructure on the continent are the biggest security threat in the long term.
“China is choosing to compete in Africa and is competing hard there,” Townsend stressed addressing the One Belt/One Road infrastructure investment initiative and Huawei telecommunication efforts, including the G5 network.
The increasing influence of China and Russia in Africa is clear to see, and it is no surprise that the US is keen on stopping it. How that will work out is up to speculation.
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