A United States panel on Africa has been told of China building a military base in eastern Zimbabwe, raising alarm in Washington which is increasingly worried about Beijing’s growing influence in Africa.
The issue came up for discussion last week during a hearing on Zimbabwe by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
California Congresswoman Karen Bass sought clarification on the issue from U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Dr. Shannon Smith, who had just returned from a visit in Harare.
“In recent years Zimbabwe has strengthened trade and military ties with China, including the construction of a Chinese military base in eastern Zimbabwe.”
“What if any, if you could speak to that, I think there are obviously security implications for the United States. What do we know about that development?” Bass asked.
Dr. Smith did not provide a direct answer, only commenting that ties between China and Zimbabwe had deepened over the years.
“The countries clearly enjoy a close relationship; China is active in much of Africa as you’ve seen in many places I know,” Smith responded, adding that the Chinese investments were mainly in mining.
Congresswoman Bass pressed further, asking who was being employed at the said camp – Chinese nationals or Zimbabweans – to which Dr. Smith said, “I couldn’t tell you.”
Studio 7 could not independently establish the existence of any such base and its purposes.
Zimbabwe National Army spokesman Colonel Overson Mugwisi could not comment, repeatedly telling VOA Studio 7 he was waiting for an appropriate response from his bosses.
Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Chris Smith took aim at Beijing, saying its influence in the world was bad for democracy.
“Human rights don’t matter in China; they violate human rights with impunity against their own people. So they’re more than able and willing to help a dictatorship or authoritarian rulers use a bad governance model of secret police… use of torture,” Smith told Studio 7.
“They are doing it in South America, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia; there is a very dangerous trend underway in the World, including in Africa and this is at a time when more African countries are matriculating into more robust democracies.”
China is escalating its influence across the globe, making huge infrastructural investments and building alliances with nations normally condemned by the U.S. for poor human rights records.