China’s Military Aid to Zimbabwe: A Strategic Move or a Generous Gesture?

How China’s donation of armoured vehicles, patrol boats, sniper rifles and more to Zimbabwe reflects their bilateral relations and interests in Africa.

by Motoni Olodun

China has donated military equipment worth US$28 million to Zimbabwe to bolster the country’s security operations and help modernize its defense forces. The donation includes armored vehicles, personnel carriers, ambulances, motorized water purifiers, patrol boats, minibusses, sniper rifles, machine guns, and hand pistols.

The equipment was presented to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at an army barracks near the capital Harare on Wednesday by the Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Guo Shaochun, who spoke highly of the historical ties between the two countries.

“This is a result of the unparalleled strategic partnership that exists between Zimbabwe and China,” said Mnangagwa, who in August won a second and final term.

China is a key ally of Harare, which has faced sanctions from the West over alleged human rights violations and electoral fraud. China sees the African country as a strategic base for spreading its influence and securing its interests in the region.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China was the largest supplier of arms to sub-Saharan Africa between 2016 and 2020, accounting for 27 percent of the region’s imports. Zimbabwe was among the top five recipients of Chinese weapons in Africa, along with Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, and Ghana.

China’s military assistance to Zimbabwe is not new. In 2014, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) donated US$4.2 million to fund various military projects, including training and equipment acquisition. In 2020, the PLA also donated 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), as well as personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.

Some analysts say that China’s military aid to Zimbabwe is part of its broader strategy to expand its geopolitical influence and secure its access to natural resources and markets in Africa. Zimbabwe is rich in minerals such as gold, platinum, diamonds, and coal, and has signed several deals with Chinese companies to exploit them.

“China is using its military aid to Zimbabwe as a leverage to gain more economic and political influence in the country and the region,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. “China is also interested in Zimbabwe’s role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is a key regional bloc for peace and security issues.”

However, others argue that China’s military aid to Zimbabwe is motivated by genuine friendship and solidarity and that it does not come with any strings attached. They say that China respects Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and does not interfere in its internal affairs, unlike the Western countries that have imposed sanctions and criticized its government.

“China’s military aid to Zimbabwe is a manifestation of the long-standing and cordial relations between the two countries, which date back to the liberation struggle against colonialism and apartheid,” said Zhou Hang, a researcher at the China-Africa Institute, a Beijing-based think tank. “China’s aid is based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, and does not seek to impose any political or economic conditions on Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe’s defense minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, echoed this sentiment, saying that China’s military aid was a “true reflection of the brotherly relationship” between the two countries. She said that the equipment would enhance the ZDF’s capacity to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as to support regional peacekeeping missions.

The ZDF has been involved in several operations in the region, such as the SADC intervention in Lesotho in 1998, the African Union Mission in Somalia since 2014, and the recent deployment of troops to Mozambique to combat Islamist insurgents.

Despite the challenges and uncertainties facing Zimbabwe, such as the economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the political tensions, the country can count on China’s continued support and cooperation. As Ambassador Guo said, “China and Zimbabwe are all-weather friends. We will always stand together, no matter how the international situation changes.”

Source: MSN


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