Report: Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe ‘Threatens’ Local Newspaper

A street vendor sells local newspapers in the streets of Harare carrying a picture of late former president Robert Mugabe on September 8, 2019. - Mugabe, a guerilla leader who swept to power after Zimbabwe's independence from Britain and went on to rule for 37 years, died on September 6, …
TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) on Wednesday accused the Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe of “threatening” a local newspaper called the Standard after it published articles about alleged “violations by Chinese mining companies,” Voice of America (VOA) reported.

MAZ said the Chinese embassy, located in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, “threatened to take unspecified ‘strong countermeasures’ against The Standard newspaper,” the U.S. government-funded VOA relayed on July 20.

The Chinese embassy in Harare issued a statement on July 11 in which it said it would pursue “strong countermeasures” against the Standard and a U.S.-based NGO called Information for Development Trust (IDT) over alleged fabrications promoted by the two entities, including “anti-China news.”

“The embassy is furious over a series of stories carried by the independent weekly, exposing corruption, worker abuse and harmful environmental practices by Chinese companies in Zimbabwe,” the news website ZimLive reported on July 13.

“In a strongly-worded two-page statement dated July 11, the embassy accused The Standard and IDT of ‘public opinion bullying and scoundrelism,'” according to ZimLive.

The Zimbabwean news outlet published an excerpt from the Chinese embassy’s letter which read:

The embassy will never shelter any Chinese companies that break the laws of Zimbabwe. However, the embassy will never endure political manipulation and unwarranted smearing which incites anti-China sentiment, and will take strong counter-measures in response to safeguard China’s image, the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and the friendly relations between China and Zimbabwe.

The embassy further accused the Standard of coordinating with IDT to produce the offending articles, claiming they had received funds “from the United States embassy in order to fuel anti-China sentiment.”

“There is evidence that these articles are products of foreign funding and execution by some local NGOs,” the Chinese embassy alleged in its letter.

“We do not deny that there are certain problems within a handful of Chinese companies […] However, some ill-motivated exaggerate the wrongdoings of a few Chinese companies and blow out of proportion the problems to indict the entire Chinese community in Zimbabwe,” the embassy wrote.

IDT operates as a branch of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), which is a “nonprofit organization registered in the U.S. state of Maryland,” according to its official website.

“GIJN receives generous core support from a variety of foundations, including the Bay and Paul Foundations, Ford Foundation, Humanity United, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Nicolas Puech Foundation, Oak Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the Reva & David Logan Foundation,” the organization’s website states.

The Standard‘s editor, Kholwani Nyathi, responded to the Chinese embassy’s July 11 letter by accusing Beijing of “intimidation.”

“All the Chinese companies that we have written about have been given an opportunity to respond to allegations made against them and most of them ignore our questions, only to respond through the embassy or its proxies,” Nyathi told ZimLive on July 13.

He urged any entities with objections to the Standard’s reporting to either engage with the publication directly or utilize “available press complaints mechanisms” in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is home to several Chinese-owned mining projects due to Harare’s membership in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is a Chinese government-funded program that allows Beijing to fund new infrastructure projects in developing or lower-income nations, often through dubious loan structures. Observers have criticized BRI loans for their propensity to burden already struggling nations with increased debt.

Zimbabwe has been one of the poorest nations in the world for decades owing to severe mismanagement and corruption by its socialist government. The landlocked, southern African country allows China’s government to operate several mining businesses within its borders as part of their BRI agreement.

Chinese nationals typically manage these mining worksites while overseeing the labor of local Zimbabweans and various African migrants. This dynamic regularly suffers from friction, with Chinese nationals often accused or convicted of creating dangerous environments for their African staff. In June 2020, the Chinese manager of a gold mine in central Zimbabwe allegedly shot and wounded two African ex-employees of the site. The violent outburst occurred after the two Africans demanded back wages from the Chinese national.

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