Zimbabwe, China and Us

Associated Press

For now, at least, it appears that a Chinese shipment containing 77 tons of ammunition, mortars and rockets has been kept from reaching the conflict-ridden nation of Zimbabwe. The ship will likely head back to China, although it's still possible that it will make landfall somewhere else in Africa to deliver its cargo to the embattled Mugabe government. Two short thoughts on this saga:

The Great Game. China clearly understands the idea of military assistance and is a major player in this area. Although China does not pose a conventional threat to the U.S. right now, it absolutely competes with us in the areas of arms sales, military advice and foreign assistance. (Note that this sale was accompanied by the deployment of 20 or so Chinese troops to Zimbabwe, to facilitate the transaction and possibly advise on the distribution and employment of these weapons.) We have a choice: We can either develop a better foreign advisory and assistance capability to compete with China, or we can cede these countries and regions to Chinese influence.

Lawfare in Action. In many ways, this is a case study in the kind of "lawfare" we're likely to see in the 21st Century. It appears that legal actions in South Africa played a major role in blocking this ship from landing. Writ large, that may bolster the argument for greater U.S. involvement with international legal institutions, particularly those relating to the control of weapons proliferation.

By Phillip Carter |  April 23, 2008; 9:41 AM ET  | Category:  Emerging Conflicts
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Phil, you should check out Chinese arrangements in Angola, which are quite novel, especially when one compares them to the Cold War deals cut by the ruling junta.

Posted by: Carl Prine | April 23, 2008 9:33 AM

I have to say that I wouldn't necessarily want to be in a race with the Chinese to curry favor with Robert Mugabe. Military assistance, and assistance in general, is an important tool in foreign relations. But it needs to be guided by some sort of strategy, and *gasp* ethical consideration. Otherwise we all end up in a race to the bottom, and guys like Uzbekistan, Sudan, and Pakistan cleaning up.

Posted by: Gus | April 23, 2008 11:34 AM

Lawfare in Colombia seems to include the left-wing notion that the FARC is a lawful combatant, entitled to foreign recognition and assistance, and that the Colombian government is not entitled to attack FARC. Or something of the sort.

Posted by: Dave Martin | April 23, 2008 11:46 AM

I agree with Gus. It is in China's interest, as an authoritarian state, to bolster the security and legitimacy of other authoritarian states. As the saying goes, birds of a feather... I think genuine democracies will align themselves with us, even if they do not always agree with us, and the reverse is true with China, Russia, and smaller authoritarian states. The history of the Cold War shows that legitimacy is incredibly important, and I think for this reason we should support states that merit it on moral grounds. If China wants to support the Mugabes of the world, let them. In the long run people will realize who is in the right.
As for the South Africa issue...I am skeptical. As a student of Chinese politics, it is hard for me to believe that a nation that has no real domestic laws would bow to the law of a foreign country of far less power and influence. Chinese law is essentially what the party says goes. To hope that they will abide by international law is naive, they will do so only when they are forced.

Posted by: DHobgood | April 23, 2008 1:29 PM

Quote "To hope that they will abide by international law is naive, they will do so only when they are forced."

Precisly, they will only obey courts when forced to by other nations. In this case the block was a legal one in the courts of a democratic nation, South Africa. The court prevented the shipment that the SA executive branch had authorized. The executive branch then bowed to the court and then backed up the ruling made by the court by turning away the shipment.

That's why we need to re-enforce the authority of courts over the executive branch, both here and aboard. The rule of law is low cost, generally seen to be fair, and acts to reign in out of line executive branches. Most wars are started by out of control people from the executive branch of governments.

(Not often is it the parliament or representatives that vote to start wars.)

Posted by: JM | April 24, 2008 2:09 PM

"(Not often is it the parliament or representatives that vote to start wars.)"

Most conflicts are not precipitated by countries that have legitimate representative branches. China will "obey courts" when their individual citizens are literally in another country and therefore under its jurisdiction. They will not obey international courts because they have no real domestic legal system to enforce law. Unless the Communist Party takes it upon itself to enforce international law on its own society regardless of its own interest. Do you think that will happen? Other countries have limited means and even more limited will to "force" China to obey international law. How many international laws did they violate today? I would wager hundreds of Chinese were executed today without due process. And as for forcing countries to obey international law, Iraq flouted international law for over a decade, and the coalition that finally "enforced" it endured widespread vilification for its troubles.

Posted by: DHobgood | April 24, 2008 3:39 PM

what is needed in the USA (and the EU) is debate about applying basic moral standards. For all the hype about the "land of the free" and a "nation under laws", the reality is that the world is no longer so much a set of nation states, but rather a marketplace and resource base for multinational companies that are essentially amoral in that the only right is profit and the only wrong is loss. It is far better to think of China Inc and the USA Inc and the EU Inc.
Yes of course, the USA is a far freer country than China, with lots more human rights enshrined in laws that are jealously policed by the citizens, but unless these self same citizens of the free world start applying even basic stds of decent human behaviour to the commercial multinational world, then we are all lost. If USA citizens simply started insisting that they will not buy Chinese made products (even from US companies that use Chinese manufacturing), then China's undemocratic leadership will sit up and care about how it treats both its own citizens and curtail its support of murderous dictatorships such as those of Zimbabwe and Angola.
The problem is that we have all been seduced by the comfortable material world afforded by cheap trade.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2008 6:44 AM

I don't exactly follow, as it is not multinational corporations who are committing serious human rights abuses in China but the Chinese government. I think the best hope for changing China's behavior is that as more and more people attain higher standards of living, they will demand more rights. This argument is almost a cliche by this point, but I don't think there really is another option. Stopping the purchase of Chinese goods would be a disaster for our economy that would have no guarantee of any success in achieving its purpose.

Posted by: DTangfield | April 27, 2008 10:30 AM

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