China's embrace of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe amid international censure of the African strongman is part of a disturbing pattern of Chinese support for repressive states, US critics said.
Mugabe and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) signed a major economic agreement in Beijing this week, just as the UN issued a report condemning his government for destroying the homes or jobs of 700,000 people in Harare's slums.
The 81-year-old Mugabe, who is barred from traveling to the EU, the US and Australia, among other nations, was warmly greeted as "an old friend" by Hu.
US Congressional critics and analysts cited Zimbabwe as an example of a state considered by the US to be a "rogue regime" which China, they assert, is propping up in a worldwide quest for oil and minerals to feed its fast-growing economy.
"There is concern that the Chinese intend to aid and abet African dictators, gain a stranglehold on precious African natural resources and undo much of the progress that has been made on democracy and governance in the last 15 years in African nations," Republican Representative Chris Smith told a Congressional committee on Thursday.
China's dealings with such governments are not illegal and rise from legitimate needs for energy and resources to support an economy that grows some 9 percent a year. Chinese ties to Africa go back to 1950s anti-colonial struggles, and China has educated many Africans and built schools and hospitals.
But critics say Beijing has become protector of the world's most repressive states, offering aid with few strings attached in terms of transparency or good governance. Environmentalists say China abets a huge illegal trade in timber and wildlife.
In diplomacy, China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, offers repressive states cover from human-rights censure, which Beijing itself rejects as interference in its internal affairs.
"In troubled nations like Sudan and Zimbabwe, we want to ensure that foreign investment does not serve to support these governments at a time when major human-rights violations are occurring," said Michael Ranneberger, deputy assistant secretary of State for African affairs.
In Sudan, Chinese oil and construction investments and arms sales ran counter to international efforts to press the government to halt widespread atrocities in the Darfur region.
Ranneberger said Washington was constantly engaged with Beijing on Africa policy and would urge China to press Mugabe to reform policies that have devastated Zimbabwe's economy.
Beyond Africa, China has embraced resource-rich countries which are stridently anti-US.
While EU negotiators try to stop Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons drive, "China has continued to support Tehran with oil purchases and assurances that China won't support action in the United Nations against Iran," said Randall Schriver, of the Armitage International consulting group.
"In Venezuela, as [President Hugo] Chavez has promoted his anti-Americanism and his ideology in the region, China is working to secure for Chavez what he most desires: less dependency on the US market for Venezuelan oil," the former Pentagon and State Department China expert said.
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