China intends to set up a modern high-tech military base in the Marange fields. The Marange diamond fields are regarded as one of the world's richest diamond deposits.
The news of the agreement to set up the first Chinese military airbase in Africa comes amid increasing bilateral cooperation between Zimbabwe and China - especially in mining, agriculture and preferential trade. China is the only country exempted from the indigenisation laws which force all foreign investors to cede 51% of their shareholding to carefully selected indigenous Zimbabweans.
It is reported that China may be positioning itself for future gunboat diplomacy where its military presence would give it bargaining power against superpowers like the US. It would also be safeguarding its significant economic interests in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.
Confidential Central Intelligence Organisation documents leaked last year suggested that China had played a central role in retaining President Robert Mugabe in the July 31 elections, indicating that high level military officers had worked closely with the local army in poll strategies while Beijing bankrolled the Zimbabwe African National Union.
China is Zimbabwe's biggest trading partner after South Africa and has strategic economic interests in many African countries to guarantee raw materials, job sources and markets for its huge population. The new Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Lin Lin, recently said trade between the two countries last year exceeded the $1 billion mark. Yet Zimbabwe is only 26th on the list of China's 58 biggest African trading partners.
The Asian country has supplied Zimbabwe with military hardware, including MIG jet fighters, tanks, armoured vehicles and rifles, since Independence.
One year ago China was well on its way to marking its territory in southern Africa, with a core military presence near the all important for global trade Cape of Good Hope which is the transit point for about 10% of global seaborne-traded oil.
China is being in process of negotiating a military base in the strategic port of Djibouti, according to the President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, and its presence would be "welcome".
Quite embarrassing, Djibouti is already home to Camp Lemonnier, the US military headquarters on the continent, used for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere across Africa. France and Japan also have their bases in the port.
China is already financing several major infrastructure projects estimated to total more than $9 billion, including improved ports, airports and railway lines to landlocked Ethiopia, for whom Djibouti is a lifeline port.
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