Christopher Rodrigues
Christopher Rodrigues

Why treat Beijing differently to Harare?

Recent calls by Gordon Brown for a cricket boycott against Zimbabwe are at face value justifiable — after all no one can disagree about the brutal kleptocracy of Robert Mugabe; but think about it less superficially, and it seems to be characteristic of the hypocritical sanctimony of the West.

Let’s leave the implications of the unlawful occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq to one side and limit our focus initially to Brown’s and his Foreign Secretary’s David Miliband’s recent visits to Beijing. For what happened in both instances was well … absolutely nothing.

Neither mentioned the denial of freedom of expression that have seen the likes of Hu Jia jailed for no more than merely writing a blog or Liu Jie sent for re-education through a labour camp for the crime of complaining about the demolitions aimed at clearing up the city in advance of the Olympic Games. They said nothing about the detention, the forced disappearances and the routine torture of academics, Buddhist clergy, journalists, human rights lawyers and trade unionists.

Nor did they deal with the compulsory abortions, the forced sterilisations, the illegal land seizures, the largest involuntary resettlement programmes in the world, the prevalence of child labour and the estimated 5 000 to 12 000 people executed a year.

Brown said instead, “We want Britain to be the number one destination of choice for Chinese business as it invests in the rest of the world”. Miliband, on the other hand, was adamant about Britain’s opposition to Taiwan’s membership of the United Nations and any call for a boycott of the Olympics. With a bit of Jesuitical anti-logic he opined, “We do not believe that issues of human rights should be restricted to the Olympic year … Those universal values … are an issue for every year”

But both have been very clear about Zimbabwe. Contrast Miliband’s confused argument above with his definite disquiet over Zimbabwe’s upcoming cricket tour next year, “The situation … is obviously deeply concerning. I think that bilateral cricket tours at the moment don’t send the right message about our concern”.

So while British athletes are being forced to sign a contract prohibiting them from commenting on China’s “politically sensitive issues” — a commitment that would even extend to the blogs and private e-mails that they write home; Messrs Brown & Miliband are standing on their soapbox sonorously condemning Robert Mugabe.

The reason of course is obvious: Money is an “ethicide” — to use John Berger’s brilliant neologism — an agent that kills ethics. If Zimbabwe could offer Britain even half of China’s capital then Bob could have Morgan Tsvangari’s head on plate if he wanted to. Money is the amoral globalistion of self-interest. Listen carefully to Brown again and you can hear him in orgasmic anticipation: “I believe by 2010 we will see 100 new Chinese companies investing in the UK, we will see 100 partnerships between our universities and Chinese universities and we will double the number of firms listed on the London Stock Exchange and thousands of jobs will be created”.

One is reminded here of the moral perspicacity of Karl Marx who realised how money transforms all our failings into their contrary: “I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor”.

China is of course the shadow of the West’s projections: Its consumptive greed; its endemic surveillance; its externalisation of cost onto the environment; its extraordinary renditions and its Google and Microsoft. It is also the most chronic test of our commitment to human rights — for however one defines ethics it means nothing if it can’t be consistently, if not universally, applied.

By way of a somewhat tangential postscript I wish in conclusion to suggest the rehabilitation of an already existing alternative. Should one state wish to pursue on its own behalf, or as a class, a course of action against another state — it should present its case to the International Court Of Justice for arbitration and consideration on the basis of international law.

If to quote Immanuel Kant we are to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” we must be prepared to place all parties on an equal footing — a Saddam Hussein or a Slobodan Milosevic should be treated no differently to a Tony Blair or an Ariel Sharon; or apropos our discussion, China should be held to the same scrutiny as Zimbabwe.

I do of course realise that the United States has regularly demeaned this court, having been found guilty by it in 1986 of the unlawful use of force against Nicaragua. America simply ignored the ruling and its demand for substantial reparations. The then secretary of state George Schultz rubbished those who advocate “utopian legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations, the World Court while ignoring the power element of the equation”.

Today — be it in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in the appeasement of the empire of tomorrow — we should be well aware that that power has no probity whatsoever.

  • Ndumiso Ngcobo

    This should be fun (he said rubbing his hands together with glee)

  • Owen

    Not sure why you place the western countries on a pedastil. Like they are better than the rest of us.

    Reverse the argument why does Zimbabwe and China do business with countries that have such obvious flaws.

    True the poms and the yanks can be sanctimonious morons but they are still plain old ordinary human beings capable of deceit and subtefuge and no politician should be let out of his cage for too long.

    So the nice thing is that the 2 B’s (brown and Bush) will be around for a lot less time than Uncle Bob. Maybe they single out Bob as they are envious of his ability to stay in power.

  • Ariella G

    I couldn’t agree more! And add to that China’s horrific record of animal rights abuses, and the reasons for taking a moral stand against Beijing become even stronger. But it’s not just the UK who should take a stand — the SA market is flooded with cheap goods from China, produced under god-only-knows what conditions. Start the boycott locally by refusing to buy Chinese goods, and by letting the SA retailers know you won’t buy their Chinese-imported merchandise.

  • Paul Whelan

    Here’s another moral question to ponder:

    Isn’t it better than some of the world’s villains are condemned than that none are condemned at all?

  • Andre Breedt

    The campaign to get high profile individuals pull out of Being Olympic PR events has gained a bit of momentum, not much granted but something at least.

    I began writing this comment, then remembered that the firm I work for has a large contract regarding the Olympics and I should either change my on line nick or say nothing.

    I think it’s time for another ciggie and cuppa instead.

  • Kit

    Exactly what I was thinking myself when I saw this a few days ago, just wondering why it is that Britain views Zimbabwe as absolutely the worst dictatorship and the worst perpetrator of human rights in the world.

    I have no intention of excusing Harare’s human rights abuses but it just seems so odd. The only thing that I can see that is unequivolcally the worst in the world is Zimbabwe’s inflation rate.

    That being so, unfortunately I will now have to err on the side of Tito Mboweni when he hikes my mortgage up yet again. Clearly the biggest evil in the world is inflation and I shall support every opportunity to fight this scourge, even if it means that I and every neighbour in my street lose our houses to the bank.

    I don’t mean to make light of the situation in Zimbabwe, it is incredibly serious. But the only conclusion I can draw in this regard is that Britain, with its once-close ties to Zimbabwe, has tired of the influx of migrants of all colours (they are not particularly keen on white Zimbabweans either) and sees this as literally the only way to stop them – just deny them entry all together.

    If that’s the case, they need to just say so instead of applying their usual anti-Mugabe smokescreen.

  • Sello

    Money speaks one universal lamguage. Remember Sudan were condemned at one stage and told they are harbouring terrorists. Now they have oil and everybody is tiptoeing around them. to borrow Muhamad Ali “floating like a butterfly, but not stinging like a bee”.

  • Gus

    I enjoyed reading this.Maybe Chris would like a job with the Harare propaganda Ministry.Mugabe loves you I tell you. Your point is well made though. Its the same point made by the Taliban, by Osama bin laden and Palestinians. Where does that put the terrosists who bomb planes suicide bombers.

  • Alisdair Budd

    With regard to the comment; “Hypocritical sanctimony”.

    Would this have anything to do with Mbeki supporting a racist dictator oppressing his Black population by selling mineral rights to foreigners in return for bribes and arms in order to prop up his racist regime?

    Or is it alright since Mugabe is Black and its the Chinese denying Black workers union rights in unsafe mines where the Black workers keep dying this time?

    Ang giving whitewashed recomendations to “free and fair” elections where the dead keep rising from the grave, so eager are they to legitimate a “liberation war heroe”‘s collapsing of an economy leading to mass starvation for the black population.

    Or is this one more racist rant that would not be tolerated under my country’s Race Relations act.

    By the way is the writer aware he seems to be paraphrasing Apartheid govt press releases, or was he ignorant of that time whilst us White British Anti-Apartheid movement were standing outside the South African embassy listening to it the first time around.

  • Odette

    Not to mention China’s treatment of the Tibetans.

  • Alisdair Budd

    For your information:

    About incitement by mob violence to murder an 11yd old schoolgirl because her mother’s MDC.

    And I also object to the oppression of Tibet.

    I just try to be fair about it instead of only representing one viewpoint, depending on the race of the oppressed and the oppressor.

  • nick mutton

    its because the brits are starving??they used to get cheap beef and other goods from Rhodesian .now meat is now a rear commodity in the UK. only the rich can afford it.

  • Nqina Dlamini

    @Alisdair Budd
    I read the blog and nowhere did I find Chris saying Mugabe is a nice guy. His only beef and me included is why the double standards.

  • Alisdair Budd

    As the writer himself demonstrates his double standards by only criticising one side of an argument.

    And meat is a rare commodity in England that only the rich can afford beause we don’t get it anymore from the Rhodesians?

    Does anyone have any idea what planet we are all on, or can we all make such bizarre comments with no regard to basic levels of sanity?

    In britain the pig farmers are currently complaining that its uneconomic to farm since we are being flooded with cheap imports of pork.

    Or was that some complete failure at satire or sarcasm?

    I would also like to bring up the plight of the Daljits in Indian, the Zorastrians in Iran, Amazonian Indians in Brazil, the Makah native Americans’ whale hunting, and Siberian Inuits treatment by the Putin govt.

    Or are we only allowed to slag off the West, and not for its treatment of Native Americans and First Nations, since that’s not trendy in South Africa at the moment, since they aren’t Black and dont vote ANC, MDC, DA or ZANU?

    If you actually wanted a balanced or relevant article there are a lot more things you could use to slag of the West, and it would be a lot more relevant, but that would actually mean paying journalists who know what they were writing about, instead of plagiarising the Zimbabwean Herald, the Zanun govt mouthpiece, who seem to be quoting Apartheid govt press releases.

    About not interfering with the “Domestic policy” of a “Sovereign nation”.

  • Alisdair Budd

    Which, it now occurs to me, were originally from defences presented at the Nuremburg War trials, where the Nazis stated that since it was their country they could do what they liked with it, and their population.

    Anyone else was from a different country and didn’t have the right to crticise since they were illegally funding opposition parties and inciting armed rebellion against the legitimate govt. Illegal under International law.

    (So said the Nazis at Nuremburg.) Go check it out and compare with some of the stuff recently posted by all sorts of govts from Sudan to the Danish.

  • Alex

    Alisdair Budd,

    I guess you should read again what Chris wrote. I talk on fair, but you must undertand the facts to be fair.

    Chris, congratulations for the text.

  • luca

    Good points, well made. But Simon Jenkins probably said it best earlier this week in the Guardian when he called for a greater sense of humility from the West, and the UK in particular: “Democracy is an invitation to hypocrisy. Let us practice it ourselves and, if we must preach, preach by example.”

  • Kizito Mwanga

    Europeans make a lot of noises only when there are interests of whites people or cultural expensionism involved.
    The love of saint gordon brown is not different of the love of Mugabe to an average Zimbabwean.
    How many dictators does the british monarchy support in middle east and Africa?

  • Kit

    And pondering Paul’s moral question – of course it is.

    However, the problem that we have here is not whether or not villains are being condemned in and of itself. It’s whether or not we lose credibility when we play favourites and only condemn villains against whom we have a personal gripe.

    Schoolyard politics. ‘If you bring me lunch every day, I won’t report you for beating up that girl over there. If you are nasty to me, I’ll report you. I will, I will.’ (often accompanied by wheedling and/or foot-stamping)

  • Accidental Activist

    Hah, did this blog a few weeks ago – asking the same question. The Olympic Committee should be consistent with how they implement and execute their decisions on who gets the Olympics. If China is okay – should Zimbabwe get it next? It will be consistent with what they call “the Olympic” values. Or maybe we should have a closer look at their values – if we can find it. More on this in my blog at

  • Tsuro

    It’s incredibly unfair to say that Chris is in any way supporting Mugabe. Zimbabwe is such an emotive subject that people sometimes stop being rational when it comes up.

    His point is that there needs to be consistency – which is abosolutely true. You cannot cherry pick which people you conrot for the sake of convenience. There need to be objective criteria so that the powerful don’t end up taking advantage of the vulnerable.

    If that doesn’t happen, you end up with powerful nations picking on smaller ones out of self interest albeit under the guise of confronting dictatorships. Like the Iraq war.

  • Dave

    Moral equavalancies? What a no-brainer. This is the constant refrain of third world kleptocrats and their pampered lackeys writing for the Guardian from the safety of the first world. There is no moral equivalence between say Zimbabwe or China or Iran or South Africa, and say the UK US and Denmark. None of the last three are model societies. But they are a paradise of liberty, prosperity, happiness, human rights, rule-of-law, Social welfare and health (yes even the US) compared to the former list(which although neither the Guardian or the blogger would have the courage to admit it, is why the latter are dream destinations for millions and the former have people fleeing them). Let’s see Iran take theological sawmill out of its own eye before offering a single word of criticism of a comparitively tiny (real, but tiny) splinter in the US’s eye. 90% of the UN nations are in no moral position to offer any criticism of anyone – yet those very countries are always loudest. They shout down the only ones who are in any position. They abuse their numbers and very ethical and moral probity of the first world. And no-one says a word their lack of legitmacy to do so. China, Russia, Cuba, Ecaudor, Venezuela, Burma, Saudia Arabia, Iran… the list of abusers is far longer than the list of those who are ‘worthy’ – most of these ought to be given sanctions next to Bob and friends. Actually… let’s find a country in Africa or Asia that doesn’t deserve them? Singapore? Japan? South Korea? Taiwan? Botswana (oops, the bushmen)? So: what should (more) moral states do: stop trading? Stay away from the Olympics?
    This is just another stick to beat the West with. It’s stupid. It’s nearly at the level of the bloke who said people were murdered in the UK too, and therefore the UK was as dangerous as SA – Except the UK has 900 murders a year in larger pop than SA, and SA is near the 20 000 – about the same as Iraq. Get over it, be honest and realistic. The third world should zip its lip until they improve their own records by several hundred to thousands of percent. Their telling anyone else what to do is like a toddler telling an Olympic marathon runner how to run. The marathon runner might need pointers from other marathon runners. He can certainly help the toddler. But a lecture on running by the toddler is just stupid. Yet that is just what we have here.

  • James Diaz

    It’s a good point, but I mean Britain’s opposition of the Mugabe regime has been at best, shabby and ineffective.

  • Jon

    Black people, likewise, kick up a lot of dust and fuss only when black people are affected. There is a sense of kinship with others of your own race. It’s not an emotion confined only to whites. Finger-pointing in pious, self-righteous indignation is just hypocrisy.

    Of course there is something wrong with the variance in British “moral” reaction to the regimes in Beijing and Harare.

    But then, it’s probably akin to the difference in “fear” reaction I show when I open some garden gate and am met by either a chihuahua or a pitbull. I can’t bring myself to be equally-afraid of both. One I’ll kick in the ribs, the other I’ll run from and vault the fence in a single bound.

    Can you blame me?

  • MidaFo

    Why do we set ourselves up as the judges of all like this? I do not want to respond to this shallow tripe but will.

    Rodrigues, despite some attempt to link the thrust to international politics, like so much that appears in the Western press about China this post of yours is shallow piss and wind.
    Learn to speak and read Chinese, then use this ability to get to know some Chinese people and visit and get to know the realities in China and the far East before you make value judgements about a place you clearly have no idea about right now.
    You are hugely and embarrassingly out of your depth. In addition whatever your beliefs about Jesus you would still go down well amongst those of the American Christian fraternity and the far right.
    Never mind you are common amongst South Africans too. As such you are a bloody danger. Bloody is not a swear word.
    Which is why I respond.

  • Paul Whelan


    To the moral question, let us add now a practical one:

    If someone, whatever the motive, had not condemned the Mugabe regime, would he not have got away with it completely?

  • Curly

    I opined similarly on 4th. March

    China has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, after it relaxed it’s opposition to foreign investment, and therein lies the key ingredient to this double standard. In comparison to China, there is very little money and trade to lose with Zimbabwe!

    It simply isn’t cricket Gordon.

  • Chris Rodrigues

    Granted MidaFo I do not speak Chinese but the activist Hu Jia and the human rights lawyer Teng Biao do. Last September they co-authored an open letter stating the following: “When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. You will see the truth, but not the whole truth, just as you see only the tip of an iceberg… You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood”. As mentioned above Hu Jia is in jail. And as of Thursday Teng Biao has been disappeared.

  • Kit

    @Paul: Don’t you think he has?

    I don’t see Uncle R.G. eating leaf soup for lunch every day and maybe a small bowl of sadza every other evening.

  • Vapour

    The truth is that it’s all about money. There isn’t any moral or ethical viewpoint/leadership that has any power or worse, the will, to stop it. People just don’t care anymore. As for Mugabe well the only sanctions he has are sanctions against accessing government loans and travel sanctions although ironically it is Barclays who are funding his government as we speak.

    The problem that China sits with is the growing disparity in income earning between the workers in commerce and those in agriculture. Personally I think it’s a tinder box waiting to explode.

    But your article asks a question and as uncomfortable as it sits with us the conclusion is spot on.

    “What a wicked web they weave as they try to deceive.”

  • Paul Whelan


    I fear a discussion around Mugabe’s diet might be unproductive.

    Seriously, though, my approach is to query why anyone should be more exercised by the west’s hypocrisy over Mugabe than by his depredations.

    Since abstract moral problems do not as a rule much concern people, 3 everyday answers seem likely: a)they support or side with Mugbe – or put another way – b)are anti-west and its claimed values; or – c)do not see any special misgovernment or cause for concern in the regime’s performance. (One might also just want to post a ‘controversial’ TL, but let us ignore that.)

    Whichever is the case – a)and b)or c)- it chooses to hide behind the charges that the west is hypocritical and provides only one more instance of the hypocrisy with which the world is replete.

    We should consider also that for a regime to fall it must first appear to lose all claim to legitimacy. This is why the Mbeki administration, key supporters of the Mugabe regime, have always feared and condemned the west’s ‘megaphone’ diplomacy and said it did not work.

    They knew, slowly and surely, that it did.

  • http://letpeoplespeakamagama Lyndall Beddy

    Do people actually do any research before they post on thoughleader? Human Rights in China is improving, and from a very low base after the collapse of communism as an economic system. Zimbabwe’s human rights have disintergrated since 2000, and from a very high position. Simple!

    As for population control in China – Africa does not have it, which is one of the reasons Africa is starving. Mbeki can’t even discuss sex (ref: his AIDS denialism ). When China realised its population had doubled to 1.5 billion in 15 years it started its one child policy – otherwise the population would have doubled again in another 15 years – as is happening in Africa and Palestine. But Chinese who wish to emograte (where they can have more children) are actively assisted by the state.

    A fact about Zimbabwe that everyone conveniently forgets, is that by the year 2000 Britain had bought back 30% of the land for Zimbabwean citizens from white farmers. When they found out that Mugabe was giving this land to his cronies and not to the landless, they stopped buying more. Also, as part of the agreement at Independence in 1980, the law became that the state had to be offered ANY land for sale before it could be sold to anyone else. When Mugabe started his land grabs, abut 70% of the remaining 70% was owned by owners who had bought AFTER independence with active permission from Mugabe’s government, and with encouragement for them to invest.

    This is well known in Britain. We look like idiots when we spout opinions based on agnorance!

  • Kit

    Re: my comment on Mugabe’s diet – it is indeed completely facetious but to my mind explains that there is actually fairly little concrete change in the power base or the lifestyles of those in power as a result merely of Western statements.

    We could argue that it is because of the rest of (particularly Southern) Africa’s complicity in his rule that this is so, but this is only part of the case. Fortunately I know the limitations of my own knowledge of behind-closed-doors deals, so I can’t comment on whether it is a large or small part.

    It is also true that a myriad of Western businesses continue to do business both within the borders of Zimbabwe and directly with the Mugabe regime.

    This might be why many of us think we are permitted to speak on the hypocritical nature of a sporting embargo. Ultimately it is a tool so small as to be a mere toothpick, while a few of the jackhammers may still be employed to prop up the regime. Megaphone diplomacy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either though unfortunately (see Burma).

    The day that we aren’t permitted to have opinions on these matters is when we can be arrested for thought crimes. Believing that Western nations can be hypocritical isn’t a thought crime that I’m aware of (see Samina Malik). Neither does it automatically mean that anyone believes that the UK government is as bad or worse than the Zimbabwean government. I mean, come on already.

    But for the knee-jerk detractors of this article: you’re criticising in the blog the same kind of attitude you are praising in the UK government. They pick their battles, they pick the people they want to criticise. I’d assume that as individuals we get the same courtesy.

  • Chris Rodrigues

    Lyndall: For this posting I referred to reports on China by amongst others Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

    Paul: I would not mention “the brutal kleptocracy of Robert Mugabe” if I was an apologist for that regime! My point is that Brown’s & Miliband’s simultaneous condemnation of Zimbabwe and obsequious flattering of China reveals that the former is not based on any commitment to principle but on posturing instead. Why does this matter you ask? Simply: When human rights are subject to a self-serving calculation of their costs and benefits they can longer be foundational principles but merely propagandistic means to an end. As such I would argue that the hypocrisy of power (note: and not just the West) does not help to transform the “depredation” that you speak of. I agree with the more exacting life-philosophy of Simon Jenkins, quoted above by Luca, “Let us practice it ourselves and, if we must preach, preach by example”.

  • Paul Whelan


    My points are simple.

    The charge of hypocrisy against those who attack Mugabe plainly does nothing to address (much less exculpate) his actions and therefore looks like a piece of hypocrisy itself.

    It is the standard evasion of Mugabe and those who support him or wish to cover for him, like Mbeki and SADC. In using their argument, you appear to shake hands with them, whether you choose to or not.

    More important is that it is not possible to see how Mugabe would have been exposed and weakened to the extent he has been without the west’s efforts, hypocritical as Mugabe and his supporters claim they are, or they may be represented. Many concerned for the human rights you mention will be thankful for small mercies. Mugabe has for very long enjoyed a full balancing measure of hypocrisy in the supportive silence about his regime of his friends and allies in southern Africa.

    Politics and ethics are strangers to each other in this world. It is worth considering that from every effort to bring the two together, the bad guys invariably walk free.

  • Trekboer

    Maybe Zimbabwe can be the official padkos sponsor for the South African Olympic team (slogan it’s just like aids there’s V***l there!)

  • Trekboer

    Ooh I feel so naughty- I’m such an online virgin. It seems I’ve only posted 3 times and already one of my words is star rated. So like all authoritarian regimes (Beijing and Harare take note), my thoughts have been edited to the point where what I’ve said hardly makes sense. Heres a hint , it used to rhyme with Vauxhall. Isn’t it odd that it’s all right to be bombarded by these words on film, television and music -but not on radio or the press? Oh and as an aside how is a popular South African punk bands name quoted in this paper -V***lpoliesiekar? (which incedentaly looks more like an ad for volkswagen and the SAP).

  • Lyndall Beddy

    My facts come mainly from the book “When a Crocodile ate the Sun”, but also from biographies I have read. However there is a new biography out on Mugabe, which I have not read, and probably won’t – it will upset me too much.

    Of course I support the liberation of Tibet. There can be no justification for Chinese repression there. However, it was making the two situations sound equal that I was objecting to. After Mao, China was desperate and starving! When Mugabe took over Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of the area.