Understanding Zim/China military cooperation

ZANLA received military support from China during the liberation struggle and one of the earliest freedom fighters to receive training in that Asian country is the current leader of Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa.

It is uncertain whether ZANLA’s fight against colonial forces would have had as much impact ideologically and militarily had it not been for China’s support.

Forty-two years after the liberation war, Zimbabwe/China relations have grown on all facets. In fact, China’s ties with Zimbabwe are among the closest on the African continent.

Besides President Mnangagwa, a sizable number of Zimbabwe’s senior officials and military commanders, including General Josiah Magama Tongogara and David Todhlana, received military training in China in the late 1960s.

A high level of cooperation and exchange between the militaries of the two countries has been an important element in their strong relations.

And since the turn of the millennium when the European Union (EU) and the United States of America imposed sanctions on the country, China has become progressively critical in providing military hardware and training to Zimbabwe.

It, therefore, came as no surprise to many that on Wednesday 13, 2023, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) received a donation of an assortment of military equipment from China.

This is just a fulfilment of the ongoing cordial relations and exchanges that exist between the two countries.

Compared with other Western nations like the United States, China’s foreign policy is viewed by Zimbabwe as dynamic, constructive and flexible. The United States’ foreign policy towards Zimbabwe has failed to evolve from being omniscient to humanistic.

It has also failed to move away from its obsession with blackmailing and blacklisting any “deviant” state through imposition of sanctions and waging wars.

Talking about Zimbabwe/China relations, Col Yonglong Zhu — a Chinese Embassy official, on July 29 2023, said something whose significance escaped the minds of most journalists. It was at the occasion of the 96th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China.

In his speech Col Zhu said; “The traditional friendship between the People’s Liberation Army and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) was fostered by the founding fathers of the two countries in the 1960s and has always been cherished and constantly promoted by the two sides over the past two decades.”

The founding fathers referred to in Col Zhu’s speech are Chairman Mao and our late founding President Robert Mugabe. In the late 1960s, ZANLA, then led by Cde Mugabe received financial, moral and military backing from China.

It is clear that Chairman Mao who left office on 27 April 1959 had already laid the groundwork and decision to support liberation movements fighting colonialism in Africa particularly in the then Rhodesia.

It is these solid historical ties that bind the two nations together that Col Zhu was referring to at the occasion of the 96th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army in Harare. It is also during the same occasion that he informed those in attendance that China would continue supporting Zimbabwe militarily.

Not so long ago in 2011, a Chinese military delegation visited Harare to share experiences with Zimbabwean forces.

Contextualising the visit, the then President, Robert Mugabe, who was also the commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said, “They (Chinese) have assisted us in our struggle to free ourselves from colonialism. China is a great friend of ours in many ways.”

In recent years, the ties between the two nations have grown to include cooperation during pandemics.

Many will remember that at a time other nations were still waiting for a cue from Western nations to secure vaccines, Zimbabwe was swift in securing the much needed vaccines from China and Russia.

This swift intervention averted numerous fatalities and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) had to commend Zimbabwe’s efforts against the pandemic.

While maintaining the goals and tenets of the UN Charter, China has also established new kinds of relationships with countries in the global south based on equality, reciprocal trust, and win-win collaboration.

China’s stance is at variance with most Western nations including the United States of America who include issues of “human rights” as precondition for any exchanges.

Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Frederick Shava alluded to this stance by Americans.

In an interview with Global Times in May this year, Dr Shava said: “We seek to learn from the Chinese experience, and China is willing to give us equal footing. However, the Americans approach is different, they mix it with ‘human rights’ (LGBT) and think we must be like them, and we are not Americans.”

China is believed to have helped 47 African nations militarily over the past 20 years. However, in southern Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola to the list of countries that have received major military assistance from China.

Western nations’ uneasiness about China’s military assistance to Zimbabwe must be allayed by the fact that the country is a peace loving nation that has been involved in many international United Nations peace-keeping initiatives and has no history or aiding or being involved in any nefarious military activities.

Zimbabwe, like all other nations, has the right to ensure that its defence systems are top-notch to maintain its security and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours.

The military relations between Zimbabwe and China have remained mutually beneficial to both parties.

China has provided military support and assistance to Zimbabwe, including training programmes, equipment and technology transfer.

In return, Zimbabwe has been a strategic partner for investment in mining, construction and other developmental sectors.

In 2019, during the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Southeast Africa, China provided emergency humanitarian supplies to Zimbabwe, demonstrating the depth of the two countries’ mutual support and cooperation.

The partnership between the two countries is thus built on mutual political trust. Both countries have demonstrated a commitment to consolidating political mutual trust and expanding pragmatic cooperation in various areas.

Another important factor that has been a major ingredient for heightened China/Zimbabwe relations is the belief that the former respects the sanctity of sovereignty. China repudiates the legitimacy of foreign interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states.

China/Zimbabwe military cooperation have enhanced the latter’s defense capabilities and security infrastructure, strengthening its position both domestically and regionally.

In addition to military cooperation, the two countries have also engaged in broader economic and diplomatic partnerships, further solidifying their mutual benefits and shared interests.

The mutual benefits derived from historical military relations between Zimbabwe and China have contributed to the overall strength and stability of both countries, as well as their respective positions in the African continent and the global arena.



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