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China Dispatches Defence Minister to Zimbabwe Even As Political Temperatures Rise

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, walks with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Aug. 25, 2014.

The Chinese government has dispatched Defense Minister General Chang Wanquan to Zimbabwe to strengthen ties between Harare and Beijing.

But the general is flying into a growing political storm in Harare. General Wang arrived in the country Wednesday and a day later ruling Zanu-PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo was advising Zimbabweans to be vigilant so as not to be, “tricked into destabilizing the country through mass protests being agitated for by (opposition) MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.”

The Movement for Democratic Change has called on President Robert Mugabe to step down after he admitted that he was getting tired.

Addressing thousands of people gathered at Kutama College over the weekend to celebrate the institution's 100 years of existence, the 91-year old Zanu PF leader said he was "disjointed" due to the hectic work schedule and long travelling he has been experiencing in the past days.

MDC spokesman Obert Gutu pounced on the statement and urged the 91 year-old leader to retire.

“Given the unmitigated collapse of all the instruments of governance coupled with the comatose economy, (President) Robert Mugabe should proceed to do the honourable thing and immediately step down as the head of state to allow legitimate processes leading to the installation of a new and legitimate government,” Gutu said.

The official line foe General Wang's visit is that he is in the country to "operationalize the implementation of mega deals" signed during President Mugabe’s state visit to China last year.

But some Zimbabweans are bitter that despite the signing of the so-called mega deals, there has been very little in terms of tangible benefits accruing to local people.

Military sources say the deals, which are normally shrouded in secrecy and carry stringent conditions including the hiring of Chinese professionals and equipment, seem to mostly benefit the Chinese and top government officials in the countries concerned.

But Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa says Zimbabwe is indebted to China, adding that Harare stands to benefits immensely from the projects.

General Chang’s first port of call was the $98 million national defense college built by Beijing with a concessionary loan to Harare.

Political scientist Takura Zhangazha of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe said China dispatched General Wang to make sure its interests are protected.

The Chinese military-linked company Anjin Investments has been engaged in mining diamonds in Manicaland Province’s Chiadzwa area in a joint venture with the Zimbabwe national army.

Global Witness, an international non-governmental organization, in 2013 revealed that about US$2 billion in diamond revenues had been unaccounted for since 2008, joining a long list of individuals and organizations who have alleged that proceeds of Zimbabwe’s diamonds were not finding their way to treasury.

In fact, Zimbabwe’s government has confirmed as much, and is in the process of consolidating diamond mines so that only one or two firms are left to mine. China has supplied Zimbabwe with military hardware, including jet fighters, tanks, armored vehicles and rifles, since independence.

China is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner after South Africa and has strategic economic interests in many African countries to guarantee raw materials, job sources and markets for its huge population.

Last year China dispatched the Commander of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo who handed over a donation of US$4.2 million (30 million RMB) to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.

The donation was meant to fund various army projects. General Qi praised President Mugabe for his stance against Western powers bent on “destabilizing Africa”.

He was speaking at a dinner hosted for him by Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga in Harare.

"General officers and men of China admire ZDF, especially your Commander-in-Chief President Mugabe who has managed to stand against Western powers' machinations to destabilize the African continent.

”Your President is one of the few leaders of the likes of Fidel Castrol, Vladimir Putin and others who have stood against Western powers.

"Few leaders have the courage to stand against United States of America and its allies. As you are aware on the issue of Crimea in Ukraine, President Putin managed to wrestle with Obama. I once told one USA (army) general that they should not forget history where their attempts at Russia failed," he said.