Cut the noise, China is a neo-colonial bully

corruptionwatch:WITH TAWANDA MAJONI

On August 25, 2020, the Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe ran a long and frothy statement through the local privately-owned media pretending to be responding to my opinion article that appeared in this space two weeks ago.

To be using the private media is a queerly new frontier for Beijing, which is well-known for bribing, manipulating and persecuting journalists and bullying public media at home and away.

My article questioned the secretive return of Anjin Investments Ltd to diamond mining in Zimbabwe after being evicted in 2016.

The embassy statement touched on numerous vain issues but mainly pitched around China’s refutation that Beijing had influenced Anjin’s return as alleged in my article.

And the embassy statement seriously erred in more than a dozen ways.

Right from the start, it launched an uncouthly emotional, undiplomatic and somewhat racially condescending attack on me as an ordinary Zimbabwean citizen and a media practitioner.

It accused me of having a “hidden political agenda”, money-mongering and peddling fake news about China’s — well — neo-imperialism.

The statement bizarrely described me as a “second rate novelist or screenwriter” and skipped all care to soberly respond to the issues I raised in my article in a grounded manner.

It’s nonsense for China to accuse me of having a hidden political agenda.

What’s hidden can’t be seen unless it’s uncovered. That was the first lie by the embassy — to pretend to see what’s “hidden” and, therefore, can’t be known ordinarily.

The point is, you can’t claim to know a thing that’s hidden, unless you put it there in the first place.

And it’s clear that the Chinese embassy didn’t know what it was talking about.

It failed to prove what my political agenda is.

It’s not too late, though. The embassy can still go ahead and prove my political ambitions and involvement so that, for a change, the sober world may believe Beijing.

On August 26, rightly, the China Africa Project expressed shock over this statement by China, which is normally reticent on issues relating to its foreign policy.

The China-Africa Project described the statement as a “highly unusual move” and went further to say the wording of the statement was the type of rhetoric “usually reserved for the likes of Mike Pompeo and Beijing’s other ‘Tier-1 critics’”.

This month, as the Project also pointed out, China did a similar thing in Liberia.

It produced a 1 600-word — the one on me was slightly more than 1 000 words — scathing response to the US embassy’s warning against using Chinese technology.

So, spot the difference. The Monrovia one was by the world’s second largest economy against the world’s biggest economy.

The Harare one was produced by the world’s second largest economy against a mere Zimbabwean journalist and anti-corruption activist — me.

The following day, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) issued a statement responding to the Chinese embassy in Harare. It described the rejoinder as “ominous”, “unusual” and “uncharacteristic” of a diplomatic mission.

ZUJ, to my own relief, called on the Zimbabwean government to protect me from Chinese harassment and intimidation.

The ZUJ call was always going to be a long throw.

Close to two weeks after the publication of my article, Mines minister Winston Chitando came out singing like the Chinese had promised him fried meat in the buffet.

He spoke exactly like China, just that he was using English instead of Mandarin or some such oriental language.

He said recent media coverage of Anjin was meant to disrupt the smooth relationship between Beijing and Harare.

What he meant, of course, was, between the Zimbabwean ruling elite and China.

The majority of Zimbabweans don’t like the so-called Chinese investors.

He also, indirectly, accused me of spreading fake news.

He didn’t sound like he had read my article, because he called it a story instead of an opinion article.

Some things are quite telling here. It took almost two weeks for Chitando to produce a statement.

Number two, Chitando’s words plagiarised the Chinese statement.

Why did it take so long for Chitando to react and, when he did, he sounded like he was just coming out of a long talking-to lecture with Guo Shaochun, the Chinese ambassador in Zimbabwe?

Did the Chinese give him something for him to talk with so much disinterested energy?

That’s mainly how China has managed to make inroads into African commerce.

That is, if it’s not extorting governments for the murky loans it advances or using all sorts of manipulation available in the neo-imperial book.

Before I go back to the Chinese embassy statement, there is another odd thing about Chitando’s statement.

He claimed that Anjin had been readmitted in line with post-Mugabe policies, namely the diamond policy, the engagement and re-engagement policy and the open business policy. The diamond policy is, no doubt, a policy.

But Chitando will have a long and laborious time trying to convince the world that the opacity that accompanied Anjin’s return is part of that mining policy.

As for the other two he calls policies, Chitando needs to go back to school after the current lockdown.

The “Zimbabwe is open for business” and re-engagement gobbledygook are merely propaganda mantras designed to give the administration some currency.

Policies are cut of noble cloth.
Despite his statement, it remains doubtful that he and his ministry have the finer detail about the Anjin deal, which, if you take the words of his deputy, Polite Kambamura — as quoted by Bloomberg — was made at the highest level for some weird “public relations”.

One obvious fact — which the public has also seen through — is that the statement wasn’t written by a diplomat.

It was clearly produced by some malicious Zimbabwean hand or hands and then endorsed by the embassy.

Curiously, too, the statement was not run on the embassy letterhead, nor was it dated.

Why did the embassy involve non-embassy people in writing the statement? Did they get bribes for this?

What other interests did the real authors have? Whatever the possible answers, this statement betrays malice and mischief on the part of the embassy.

I write the weekly, Corruptionwatch column for free and it has always been like that for the past four years.

I am not a politician and don’t have political ambitions.

Even if I did — which is my constitutional right — my column is not a political column.

I analyse governance trends as they develop, particularly as they relate to transparency and accountability.

By making these unfounded and scandalous claims against me, the embassy becomes guilty of what it accuses me of — fabricating information.

I am shocked that the Chinese embassy had the audacity to mount such unfounded and uncalled-for vitriol against me for exercising my constitutional freedoms of conscience and expression.

I am also startled that a foreign mission could choose to do that to me as a Zimbabwean citizen.

It’s bad enough that China has, for a very long time, held an acutely poor record in its handling of media freedom.

l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw

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