This whole China in Africa story is here to stay for many-a-year. We've been following it quite closely here at our little organisation; I've even written about bits of it.
It's a retarded friend or foe debate in the media, but China doesn't do much to steer it in new, more sophisticated directions. Quite the opposite in fact. This latest story just reinforces the stereotypes.
That China sells lots of weapons to so-called 'pariah' states in Africa is not news. Sudan, Zimbabwe, Angola, lots of Gulf of Guinea countries, etc. But the timing of this one is pretty precious. As we all know, Zim is tangled in an electoral crisis, having suffered about 10 years of disastrous Moogs-style dictatorship. In that period most of the world has abandoned Zim, placed travel bans on Moogs and his cronies, and banned weapons sales to the country, etc etc. South Africa and some other SADC states have been more circumspect (that's diplomatic language right there).
China? No way mate! They don't give a damn. They've continued to foster cosy relations with Harare, and have given Moogs lots of goodies, like fighter jets, tractors, buses, guns, and other stuff.
And right in the middle of this elections mess - where there is substantial risk of state-on-citizen violence to ensure Moogs's 'victory' - they are sending weapons to Zim! Via South Africa! The ship carrying the goodies docked at Durban on 14 April. It has been established that the ship is carrying weapons, and that their final destination is Zim. Initially SA customs denied the ship entry. But now we've cleared it. International politics is so principled.
No big powerful country in the world maintains any real standards of decency in international engagements. It's all about power and narrow national interests. But the baddies of the 20th century (the West, mainly) actually do try and do things differently these days (if we set aside Iraq for a moment - please bear with me here). China is a little behind the curve. Tibet, Zim, Myanmar, and Sudan kind of undo Beijing's insistence that it is a responsible global citizen.
I don't really know what to make of it all, but I do know that the PR around these Olympics, and the squirming Chinese officials will have to endure, is going to be fun to watch.