Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was expected Wednesday in South Africa for a state visit and talks with President Thabo Mbeki. He would thus be the second top Chinese official to bypass Harare in recent months in spite of the ever-closer commercial relations between the states: President Hu Jintao also skipped Zimbabwe earlier this year when he visited three African nations.
Wen’s tour of seven African nations has already taken him to Egypt, Ghana and the Republic of the Congo. He also has stops scheduled in Tanzania and Uganda.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Wen's tour is important to Beijing’s diplomacy in Africa, leading some experts to see the absence of a Harare stop as a deliberate omission by Beijing to deflect Western criticism for its cultivation of relations with governments which the United States and other leading Western nations have taken to task over their human rights records.
The U.S. Congressional Research Service said China has sold arms to African nations including Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Burundi, Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as to Zimbabwe. Diplomatically isolated in the West, Harare has sought the friendship of China under its “Look East” policy, which according to official reports in Harare was much advanced by Vice President Joyce Mujuru’s just-ended visit to Beijing.
On a related front, the European Commission came under pressure this week from delegates to its ACP-EU forum for relations with developing African, Caribbean and Pacific nations, who urged Europe to pressure China to refrain from doing business with countries that have been identified as chronic human rights offenders.
For perspective, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with senior researcher Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group. Zimbabwean opposition member Nelson Chamisa was interviewed from Austria, where he was representing Zimbabwe at the ACP-EU developed-developing world forum.