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Vol. 81/No. 46      December 11, 2017

(lead article)

Zimbabwe coup takes place amid Beijing rivalry
with Washington

In the midst of economic crisis and political infighting, the Zimbabwean military forced the resignation of long-standing President Robert Mugabe. Ruling party Zanu-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed the presidency Nov. 24. The Chinese government, a longtime backer of the Mugabe regime, said nothing to oppose his ouster.

Mnangagwa urged Washington and other imperialist powers to lift sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe after the Mugabe government transferred many large capitalist farms into the hands of Zanu-PF supporters in the early 2000s. These sanctions have been continually renewed since then. Mnangagwa said his government would compensate former landowners for the land seizures, but not overturn them. He assured foreign capitalists that their investments in Zimbabwe would be untouched.

When the Zimbabwean people ended white-minority rule and won independence in 1980 they inherited an economy misshaped to accommodate Britain’s extraction of raw materials and dumping of excess cheap products.

On top of this, working people there face the consequences of a decadeslong capitalist economic crisis, a product of both the worldwide capitalist contraction and disastrous policies by Mugabe’s government designed to enrich his family and allies. In the midst of uncontrollable inflation in 2009 the government abandoned the currency, the Zimbabwe dollar. While the U.S. dollar replaced it in larger-scale commerce, for the overwhelming majority of Zimbabwe’s people barter became the norm. Over 90 percent of Zimbabwean toilers live outside what the government calls its “formal economy.”

A day prior to Mnangagwa’s inauguration, the International Monetary Fund warned the new government would have to pay its arrears to imperialist financial institutions on its debt, before further credit would be extended.

The IMF — which exists to enforce the dictates of Washington and other imperialist powers — specializes in imposing “tough love” on regimes that fall behind in payments to their bondholders, demanding they find the funds owed by taking them out of the hides of working people. The government of Zimbabwe owes $550 million to the IMF, $1.126 billion to the World Bank, $529 million to the African Development Bank and $221 million to the European Investment Bank.

Beijing propped up Mugabe gov’t

Beijing had helped prop up the Mugabe government, with over $1 billion in low-interest loans between 2010 and 2015, when Washington, London and other imperialist powers sought to isolate the country. As the economic crisis deepened, the Wall Street Journal reports Beijing at the end of 2015 refused further assistance and urged Mugabe to rely on deals with the IMF.

The Chinese government’s connections to Zanu-PF go back to the liberation struggle that brought down the British-backed white-minority government in what they called Rhodesia. The party, one wing of the anti-colonial movement that led the country to independence in 1980, got weapons and training from Beijing and was politically influenced by the Stalinist leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in power at the time.

Under Mugabe’s leadership, the newly independent government embarked on an anti-working-class course, unleashing a rule of terror on political opponents and on the Ndebele peoples in the west of the country, killing tens of thousands. Zanu-PF was based largely among Mugabe’s Shona people, a majority of the country’s population.

Beijing and Zimbabwe

Beijing swiftly congratulated Mnangagwa on his appointment. The rulers in China are concerned first and foremost with defending their position in Africa and their expanding economic clout. “Chinese investment in Zimbabwe has also fallen victim to Mugabe’s policy and some projects were forced to close down or move to other countries in recent years, bringing huge losses,” wrote the Chinese state newspaper Global Times Nov. 17. “Bilateral cooperation did not realize its potential under Mugabe’s rule.”

The massive development of Chinese industry over three decades has driven capitalists there to expand their interests worldwide, including in Zimbabwe and other African nations. They seek political influence and access to markets and raw materials.

Chinese trade with African nations rose 20-fold between 2000 and 2014. Chinese companies have sought to extract cobalt, oil, copper, iron ore and uranium from countries across the continent. And they are also building roads and other infrastructure and setting up factories, adding to the rising numbers of African toilers drawn off the land. The accompanying expansion of the working class in Africa is an important social advance and a token for the future. Over time this fuels class antagonisms.

Beijing extended substantial loans and aid to the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe to build infrastructure and extend the potential for production and trade. They sold arms and invested in diamond and gold mines, construction and agricultural production.

Map of Chinese-funded rail line connecting port of Djibouti, also site of newly opened Chinese military base, with Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. This is one of several rail construction projects initiated by Beijing in East Africa aimed at expanding its trade and investment.

Investment from China topped $450 million in 2015 — more than half of all foreign investment in the country. Beijing also bought up some 28 percent of all the country’s exports that year, including 54 percent of its tobacco production.

What Chinese rulers are doing in Zimbabwe fits with other trade deals and infrastructure projects across Africa. Recently completed and projected Chinese rail construction would link several east and central African nations.

As it is drawn deeper into economic and social conflict on the continent, Beijing seeks to protect its interests by expanding its military footprint. Chinese capitalists bought oil fields in Sudan prior to the 2013 civil war there. As the conflict unfolded, Beijing sent an infantry battalion to newly independent South Sudan. This summer Beijing opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti.

While Washington remains the dominant imperialist economic and military power on the planet, Beijing is expanding its reach across Africa and Asia.  
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