May 11, 2005

May 11, 2005 | Commentary on Asia

China's Zombie Countries

In Haitian folklore, zombies are people reanimated from near death and enslaved to the witch doctor that revived them. Could it be that China's leaders are taking their cues from Haiti?

From Burma to Nepal to Zimbabwe, China is providing political, diplomatic, and security support to failing dictatorships. Beijing gives just enough help for the dictator to survive sanctions and domestic popular revolts, while the PRC gains a dependent state.
The faux-Communist witch doctors of Beijing are not propping up these unsuccessful governments for ideological reasons - quite the opposite. Nepal is an absolute monarchy, Burma is a military dictatorship, and Zimbabwe is governed by a once democratically chosen leader gone bad. In repayment for reanimating these near-dead regimes, the PRC is demanding - and getting - obedience to its nationalistic policies of creating strategic space around China, isolating Taiwan, securing critical resources, and guaranteeing markets for Chinese products.

The partial enslavement of the zombie countries is clearly demonstrated in China's newest acquisition, Nepal. Nepal is struggling through a bloody civil war with Maoist rebels. The Maoists have managed to gain the upper hand in a large part of the country and can, on occasion, isolate Katmandu. King Gyanendra's response to his failing counter-insurgency strategy was to dissolve the government and declare his monarchy absolute. He then ordered the Nepalese security forces to suppress all opposition. Consequently, India, the United States and Britain all condemned the king's actions and cut off military aid to Nepal. China stepped up with a zombie-making potion of political acceptance and security assistance.

China's Foreign Minister, Li Zaoxing, visited Nepal and declared that the King's seizure of power was "an internal matter for Nepal." For his part, King Gyanendra announced that "China is a reliable friend of Nepal." On April 22-24, Gyanendra will visit China for an economic conference, his first visit abroad since he seized power.

In exchange for Beijing's diplomatic support, Nepal is turning on its defenseless Tibetan refugees. China's ambassador declared that "Nepal is very important to the stability and prosperity of Tibet." King Gynandera replied to the Foreign Minister that "Nepal firmly supports the one-China policy of your government and will never allow any anti-China activities in Nepal's territory." Gyanendra subsequently shut down offices representing the Tibetan government-in-exile that had operated in Nepal since 1960 and began a pogrom of persecution of Tibetan refugees that included forced repatriations.

Furthermore, China is enslaving Nepal's economy as well. China is among the top-five donor countries to Nepal, but Chinese aid is largely aimed at supporting Chinese businesses and tapping Nepal's natural resources to the exclusion of Nepalese businesses. Nepal had been pushing for more equal trade terms to counteract its enormous trade imbalance with China, but since Gyanendra took over the country concrete remedies have failed to materialize.

Zimbabwe's descent to zombie status is no more mysterious than Gyanendra's near-death experience. Zimbabwe is a resource-rich southern African nation, suffering a major economic crisis, with inflation at 400 percent and unemployment at about 70 percent. Zimbabwe's per-capita income has nosedived over the past eight years from $682 in 1998 to $521 in 2002. President Robert Mugabe abused his office to suppress opposition parties and maintain his grip on power. His ruling party won an overwhelming victory in March 2005 in elections not believed to be free or fair by most Western countries.

Amid sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States, China delivered $240 million in military goods to Zimbabwe including thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, riot gear, and mobile water cannons. Mugabe's security forces used the weapons to break up opposition political rallies and demonstrations. Beijing also provided radio-jamming equipment to Harare, thwarting pro-democracy broadcasts during the last "election" campaign.

In return for China's military equipment, President Mugabe is said to have promised China land and access to mineral resources. In November 2004, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the standing committee of China's National People's Congress, paid a visit to Zimbabwe and signed six economic agreements. Emmerson Mnangagwa, speaker of the Zimbabwean national assembly said the national assembly would lay down laws to ensure that high priority be given to the Chinese enterprises.

Although there are no Tibetan refugees to persecute in Zimbabwe, Mugabe does his best to please his new master by helping to isolate Taiwan. The ministry of foreign affairs of Zimbabwe said in March 2005 that Zimbabwe firmly supports China's anti-secession law, which authorizes the use of military force to prevent Taiwanese independence.

Burma and North Korea have been zombies so long that they may now be in permanent vegetative states, but the persistence of these two regimes beyond their long-expected demise is a clear demonstration of the efficacy of China's policy. Burma has been under strict international sanctions since it violently suppressed a popular revolt in 1988, but there is no sign of the junta's imminent collapse. North Korea's economy completely failed in the 1990s, starving to death an estimated 1.5 million people, but Kim Jong Il blithely clings to power and is grooming his son as a successor.

Forced to compete with the American model of representative democracy, the government of the People's Republic of China offers the third world a non-ideological choice - liberty or tyranny. Of course, Beijing does not offer this option to the third world's people, who no doubt yearn for freedom and prosperity. Instead, the Chinese vision appeals only to failed despots whose regimes can survive only with Chinese resuscitation - the Zombies.

Dana Dillon is a senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Dana Robert Dillon Senior Policy Analyst
Asian Studies Center

Related Issues: Asia

First appeared in The National Review