A tragedy where little can be done by outsiders begets exceptional commentary regardless.
Morris Szeftel rejects a call for a coup in Zimbabwe by Paul Collier, author of “The Bottom Billion”, identifying the hardliners with Mugabe in the military and political party as a potentially bigger problem than Mugabe himself.
My take: While Mugabe has cultivated a personality cult around himself, I agree with Szeftel that an 80 year old man alone cannot be responsible or perhaps even the primary source of the variety of schemes his regime (and party) have floated to stay in power.
Sometimes we give tyrants too much credit, and the genius of seizing diamond and other mineral rich areas in the Congo during Africa’s “World War” as well as the extensive investments and land provided to business partners and government interests of supportive nations like Libya and China were likely not the product of Mugabe alone.
There are highly vested interests within the military and government (as well as even some businessmen making a tidy profit, though most are opposed to Mugabe and his ilk after they have pilfered the country and destroyed its agricultural base) that would not be keen on sharing power with opponents.
The Strategist takes armchair warriors to task for an utter lack of understanding of Zimbabwe and then offers a more nuanced plan for intervention.
My take: The prospect of any sort of intervention is slim to none, and for reasons identified by Soob below, even the hopes of a South African diplomatic offensive on the matter are unlikely. Dicey are the choices remaining for external opponents of the regime, do they further isolate the regime by the further freezing of assets, travel bans and denial of legitimacy (and could China be convinced to jump abroad this policy?) or can they so overwhelm some within Mugabe’s camp that they jump for a power-sharing deal?
Soob connects the dots and ponders South African President Thabo Mbeki as a realist.
My take: Considering the immense difficulty South Africa is having containing the social, political and security ramifications of the spasm of xenophobic violence against immigrants, Mbeki’s caution is warranted by fear of a further destabilization (and the economic consequences, the violence earlier targeted many immigrants that were essentially “market-dominant” minorities within poor communities, self-destructive behavior that has made the crushing poverty there far worse) caused by fleeing refugees.
Yet, as Ralph Peters points out it, this is ultimately a containment strategy doomed to fail at some point sooner than later. Mugabe will eventually pass on, be killed or be sent into retirement by an ambitious rival. It may be better to risk diplomacy now than hope that the third scenario unfolds rather than the more likely first two. Even Jacob Zuma has condemned Mugabe and called for some degree of power sharing between him and his rivals.
I cannot suggest anything more worth your time regarding this situation than the in country impressions of both Zimbabwe and South Africa Ralph Peters (PDF file here: the-lion-and-the-snake ) made during several weeks in each nation in 2003. Exceptional analysis and firsthand wisdom.
I found his comment illuminating for understanding what those in the government and the elite class think.
Yet what do the people think though? And by that, not just in China but around the world?
The thuggish behavior of Chinese bodyguards (ostensibly in response to thuggish behavior by certain protesters) as mentioned in more detail by TDAXP in a variety of posts is one thing, but the pathetic (for lack of a better word to describe the mix of rage, indignity and delusion shown by far too many of them) behavior of some Chinese abroad during the past few weeks is another.
The New York Times relates the story of some vocal Chinese students engaging in misguided propaganda operations on American soil that would be comical if not for the seriousness of certain members of those involved, as well as the developing pattern of academic censorship (trying to force certain subjects off the table of discussion) and even criminal behavior (taking photos and ID’ing of a Chinese student at Duke University who tried to make peace between feuding protesters (amongst other high crimes she committed in the students’ eyes) that has led to her family going in hiding and her fearing for her safety @ Duke).
As an insightful friend with Peruvian immigrant parents who attends grad school at Duke noted, “We love Chinese goods (low prices!) and respect the Chinese people, but we like our political and social system thank you very much, its preferable to what goes on there much as that may be hard to appreciate sometimes and certainly do not like to be told by the largely elite children of a dictatorship how to conduct it.”
He and others report the tactics of these Chinese students has backfired even in liberal PC land (aka Duke). More students than ever before are expressing interest in what are conceived by these Chinese students as “China-bashing”; supporting peace in Dar Fur, protesting the marginalization of the Tibetans to Chinese immigrants and power in Tibet, freedom in Zimbabwe & Burma. Attitudes are hardening and China’s image is suffering greatly more from the actions of students defending it than actual Chinese policies at this point. Even more, not just at Duke but elsewhere where these types of shenanigans are ongoing, there is a growing resentment among American students toward these rude guests.
Around the world, John Pomfret theorizes that Chinese soft power is ebbing, perhaps even collapsing of its own contradictions and excesses, a questionable but nevertheless fascinating possibility in the wake of other such behaviors by Chinese citizens and of course the Chinese government. He elaborates:
Move over ugly American, make room for the ugly Chinese.
“In Seoul on Sunday, groups of Chinese students accosted protesters demonstrating against China’s treatment of North Korean refugees and Beijing’s policies in Tibet. The attacks by the Chinese occurred as the Olympic torch wended its way on its seemingly never-ending journey around the world. The South Korean government was justifiably angry. China, after initially denying the events occurred, has now taken steps to still the waters. But the damage has been done. China’s angry youth – called “fen qing” in Chinese – are ruining their country’s reputation around the world and spelling the end of a decade-long honeymoon that the world has had with China.
The flare-up was the latest deeply troubling and profoundly weird event to mar the globe-trotting journey of the torch, which the Beijing government has dubbed “the sacred flame.” (Remember, these dudes are officially atheists.) Before Seoul, we had Chinese cops in blue and white tracksuits manhandling demonstrators in Paris and London; we had a Chinese woman in the United States who participated in a pro-Tibet protest being identified on a listserv run by Chinese students; now her parents are on the run in China and her high school in Qingdao has revoked her diploma; and we’ve witnessed the incessant hounding of Tibetan and other speakers on US campuses by Chinese students. In cities around the world, the Chinese embassy has fanned the passions of the “angry youth” by encouraging them to demonstrate, handing out T-shirts and flags.
While I have no problem with displays of patriotic feeling, the only thing these “angry youth” are accomplishing is turning the world away from China. And they are not alone in this ill-fated effort to get China’s point across. China’s propaganda machine is also seriously in need of repairs.”
I called this “ruthless incompetence” and I’ll repeat that description again. However profitable the Chinese patronage system may have become in the past few years (gathering needed resources from Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan, etc.), it is backfiring and likely to further worsen for China (as one can only imagine the attitude of the Chinese government and tens of millions of Chinese towards the rest of the world’s opinion once the Olympics have finished).
The Chinese gov’t likes to say “its all business” but they are wrecking much of their vaunted product line; from faith in effective Chinese global leadership to the image presented by China’s public diplomats (not to mention literal Chinese designed and/or manufactured products themselves!).
These are certainly growing pains as described by Dan @ TDAXP and Thomas PM Barnett on numerous occasions. Yet what if they’re something more? What if the Chinese can’t figure this out on their own any time soon and only make things worse for themselves? What if they miss their chance to grab the mantle (or at least part of it) of global leadership for the next 5-7 years or even longer? What if rather than recalibrating their “soft power” at a time when its failing they instead hunker down?
(One could only imagine the possibilities if America actually had effective leadership instead of people talking about obliterating Iran and alienating Russia, China and other non-democracies.
*A final note, I find it amusing almost that the students also epitomize the angst of a rising superpower who does not yet understand what its like to be at or near the apex of global power (i.e. respect and appreciation is nil from others).
No matter what China does, these students say, it cannot win in the arena of world opinion. “When we have a billion people, you said we were destroying the planet./ When we tried limiting our numbers, you said it is human rights abuse,” reads a poem posted on the Internet by “a silent, silent Chinese” and cited by some students as an accurate expression of their feelings. “When we were poor, you thought we were dogs./ When we loan you cash, you blame us for your debts./ When we build our industries, you called us polluters./ When we sell you goods, you blame us for global warming.”
Rather than blend in to the prevailing campus ethos of free debate, the more strident Chinese students seem to replicate the authoritarian framework of their homeland, photographing demonstration participants and sometimes drowning out dissent.
Would they like wine with that cheese? Welcome to the lonely world of a modern superpower.