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Xi Jinping visit: Connect the dots

As Karl Krauss observed, corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.

Ken Yamamoto Academic

“I will fight corruption without fear of favour. I will personally lead the charge … pray for me and support me in this war because those involved are not the ordinary wananchi (citizens)”. This is what the new President of Tanzania had to say when he opened the 11th parliament in Dodoma, Tanzania. This opinion will not dwell much on John Magufuli as that is a matter for another day. I, however, hope that you can connect the dots.

“We must uphold the fighting of tigers and flies at the same time, resolutely investigating law-breaking cases of leading officials and also earnestly resolving the unhealthy tendencies and corruption problems which happen all around people”. These were the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping in January 2013 when he vowed to crack down and go after both tigers (corrupt high-level officials) and flies (small-time crooks).

Like what Magufuli is doing in Tanzania, Xi stamped his authority and pursued meaningful discipline by making more populist moves — banning officials from making long, boring speeches or being given red carpet welcomes and ordering the military to stop holding alcohol-fuelled banquets and staying in luxury hotels. Since 2013, he has cemented his bona fides as a corruption fighter in China.

Corruption fighter
Xi is a swashbuckling corruption buster. To send the point home, he has created an impeccable record of snaring the big tigers. In June, Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief and retired politburo standing committee member of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, abuse of power and intentionally disclosing national secrets.


Before this, Zhou was one of the most powerful men in China, overseeing courts, prosecuting agencies, the police, paramilitary forces, and intelligence organs. Yao Mugen who served as Vice-Governor of Jiangxi province was convicted of corruption and sentenced.

Jiang Jiemin, a former general manager and then chairman of the China National Petroleum Corporation (a parent company of PetroChina), and later director of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Sasac) was in March 2013 convicted on charges of abuse of power, bribery and being part of a network of vice and malfeasance, and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Bo Xilai, a former mayor of Dalian, former governor of Liaonin, former minister of commerce and a member of the central politburo and secretary of the CPC’s Chongqing branch was charged and found guilty in September 2013 of corruption, stripped of all his assets, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Xu Caihou, a military general in the People’s Liberation Army of China and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the country’s top military council — a role that made him one of the top-ranking officers of the Chinese military — was in March 2014 arrested and investigated on suspicion of bribery and corruption: receiving massive bribes for promotions of officers under him. He died this year before he got his punishment, but after being expelled from the CPC. Xu’s arrest was unprecedented in China because he was a high-ranking general.

Ling Jihua, a former principal political adviser to ex-president and general secretary of the CPC, Hu Jintao, was in July this year expelled from the CPC and arrested for bribery and sleaze. His fortunes had started to wan when his 23-year-old son was killed while driving a Ferrari in 2012 — a sign of elite opulence that riles the Chinese masses.
Liu Zhijun a former minister of railways, was in April 2013, arrested on corruption charges for allegedly taking bribes and abusing power as minister, and subsequently convicted and given a death sentence with reprieve in July 2013.

Liu Tienan, who served as the director of the National Energy Administration between 2011 and 2013, and before that as deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, was in 2013 investigated and dismissed for corruption-related offences. In December 2014, Liu was convicted on charges of bribery, and sentenced to life in prison.

Why is this important?
As you see from the foregoing, Xi is executing his vow to go after both tigers and flies with gumption, efficiency and surgical precision. He was in Zimbabwe on Tuesday and Wednesday. But again you must connect the dots. The prize for his visit is not Zimbabwe, because he is just passing through. His real objective is to attend the China-Africa Summit in South Africa.

However, Mugabe and Xi are not only from two different schools, they are cut from different cloths and have different visions, perspectives and attitudes to corruption. Mugabe has little or no long-term vision at all for Zimbabwe’s future and prosperity. He pays lips service to fighting corruption and his fingers are deep into it. I have in the past asserted that Mugabe is the corruption godfather in Zimbabwe .

On the other hand, Xi’s record on fighting corruption speaks for itself — ensnaring both tigers and flies. In any case, Xi would have a fundamental problem reconciling with a person whose only known career has been a teacher and president, and whose wife’s known career has been typewriter operator owning, down the line, millions of dollars’ worth of a dairy business. His vision is clear: expressed through Zhōngguó mèng otherwise known as the Chinese dream — which has been defined to mean national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and common dream of the Chinese people

Through this contrast, can you still connect the dots?

Why else is it important?
How does this affect you? You might ask. Of course, it does! On October 8 2015, Xi’s corruption busters arrested Sam Pa. Chances are you have not heard of the name before, because many people haven’t. But he also uses multiple Chinese, English, Cantonese and Portuguese aliases such as Sampa, Xu Songhua, Sa Muxu, Samo, Sam King, Xu Jinghua, Ghui Ka Leung Tsui King Wah, Ghiu Ka Leung, Sam King, Antonio Famtosonghiu Sampo Menezes and so forth.

He is the brains behind the 88 Queensway Group of companies — so named because his collection of companies were either registered or operated from Two Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, in Hong Kong. He is also known to be the brains behind China International Fund, which has claimed to invest over US$20 billion in developing countries — but largely unstable ones.

A former spy with strong military and high-level connections, and also described as having a propensity for women and fast cars, Pa is a mercurial and shadowy character who until now has high levels of influence, operating a multi-billion dollar corporate empire in a short space of less than 10 years, spanning infrastructure, oil, mining, aviation, agriculture, and real estate.

88 Queensway has tentacles on most continents from Zimbabwe to North Korea all the way to Manhattan in New York where they bought the former JP Morgan building on Wall Street. He set up or bought many companies such as Guangxi Construction and Engineering, Guangxi Water and Electric, China Steel, Jinghend, Sichuan Nanchong, Sichuan Uingshan, Dayuan International Development and Fuikan Ningde. A man with a neck for cultivating powerful connections, reports indicate that he was close to Lo Fong-hung, a tiny woman who reports show that Hugo Chávez described as the daughter of a Chinese general back in 2004. He worked closely with Helder Bataglia dos Santos to build connections in Angola.
Closer to home, his better known creation is a company called China Sonangol — a Chinese-Angolan joint venture which 10 years ago got Western banks backed loans on the back of a US$3 billion loan guarantee from Sinopec — one of China’s largest state-owned oil companies.

Su Shulin, governor of Fujian province, was arrested a day before Sam Pa was apprehended. Su is the former head of the Sinopec Group. He worked closely with Pa on oil deals in Angola and the arrest of both buccaneers is linked. In its deals with China Sonangol, Sinopec lost billions of dollars, in the acquisition of five oil blocks. On the other hand, Pa made a fortune from these transactions. He has very strong connections with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Dos Santos’ daughter is one of the richest women in Africa. Can you still connect the dots?

Pa’s operations however ranged from amoral to morally questionable to unquestionably illegal. With an eye for strong connections to resource-rich countries whose leaders have landed themselves in desperate financial circumstances or international isolation. Pa did deals with Zimbabwe, Guinea, Niger, North Korea and Madagascar, among others — leaving a trail of graft, opaqueness, chronic delays and mismanagement.

How did he affect you?
Pa was a key but shadowy and murky player in the body politic of Zimbabwe. During the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF beat the opposition MDC parties to the announcement by alleging that it was running a parallel government. The fact of the matter was that Zanu PF was running a parallel government, on the back of murky transactions with Pa.

Pa set up a Sino-Zimbabwe Development Company (Sino-Zim), a joint-venture with Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), fronted by director-general Happyton Bonyongwe. One of their key transactions was to buy a building in downtown Harare along Samora Machel Avenue known as Livingstone House, formerly owned by Old Mutual. This is where Zimbabwe’s Ministry of ICT is housed.

Sino-Zim dabbled in many operations ranging from cotton to mining to financing parallel Zanu PF operations in government to buying goodies for the CIO. But most importantly, Pa bought vehicles for the CIO, funded Zanu PF’s elections including buying millions of Mugabe-branded giveaways and farming inputs Mugabe dished out ahead of the 2013 elections.

Vice-President Emmerson Munangagwa, prior to Zimbabwe’s election in 2013, travelled to Angola, and brought back US$1 million in cash to fund elections contrary to state laws, courtesy of China-Sonangol, a Pa creation.

Contrary to common wisdom in the diamond trade of restricting supply, the Zimbabwean government issued various licences to multiple mining companies with shady connections. One of the last companies to be issued with a diamond mining licence during the GNU era was Sino-Zim Diamond Ltd, owing to influence peddling by Pa and his local connection, Bonyongwe. Pa, who used to trade guns and ammunition in the 1990s, had far more influence in the Zanu PF party than any other foreign businessman, including Nick Van Hoogstraten.

In spite of all this, Pa and his enterprises are notorious for over-promising and under-delivering. In Angola, he never completed any of his projects. On the Lobito corridor in Angola, a foreign policy report quotes locals saying: “The Chinese spent months getting their camp together and bringing in brand-new bulldozers. Then, instead of beginning to repair the line, they dismantled it all, ate their dogs, and left.”

In Zimbabwe, there is nothing to show for all his projects except keeping the mafia in power. Former finance minister Tendai Biti used to complain that diamonds money was not finding its way into Zimbabwe’s Treasury. Pa and his CIO joint venture firms were used to loot diamonds which were flowing out from a secure private airstrip in Marange diamond fields and funds were then funnelled back through the CIO in murky financial transactions.

The shady relationships between Pa and the parties in the Chinese military gave Pa significant influence in arranging a loan of US$70 million to Zimbabwe’s CIO with Bonyongwe pulling the strings in the background. Arranged through a front company called Farmers’ World, fronted by Zanu PF MP Edward Raradza whose outfit purported to represent the indigenous farmers, the arrangement was a vehicle through which the money was looted by elites in the CIO and government.

To cover their tracks, they bought a few farm implements. On a visit to Zimbabwe, one individual familiar with these shenanigans drove me to an open site in Msasa industrial area just after Mukuvisi Woodlands where a collection of about 40 or so brand new fake Chinese John Deere combine harvesters are parked for storage. They have been there for the past three or so years and they have grass and trees growing on them.

No bailout, just broader co-operation

As Karl Krauss observed, corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country. Pa maybe be a fly in the corruption and bribery net in China. While Xi passed through Zimbabwe en route to the Sino-Africa summit in South Africa, he was well aware that his host owes his position to corruption, pillage and the support of the man he has arrested for indiscipline and bribery back home. He knows who to do real deals with and who not to.

Xi also knows that his host has become a puppet. Due to his mindless lust for power at any cost, he owes a lot of people, and has been propped up by people who have become puppeteers — his wife Grace, the CIO and most importantly, money peddlers like Pa who Xi has arrested back home.

Jinping is also aware what Grace is up to on her lone but frequent visits to China. He may sign this or that memorandum of understanding for bilateral co-operation, but as business is done in China, everything is based on trust (Xinren). There are two types of guanxi (the Chinese system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings): relationships based on trust, and relationships based on money, and Xi is cracking down on the latter.

l Starting on July 6 2012, the Zimbabwe Independent ran a serialised Global Witness report Financing a Parallel Government?, which made interesting revelations about the Marange diamond fields in Chiadzwa. The report by Global Witness, a UK-based NGO which campaigns against natural resource-related conflict, corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses, shed light on activities unfolding at Marange then, detailing who was involved and the intricate networks comprising the Chinese and Zimbabwe’s security forces, dealing in diamonds, cotton and property sectors. Follow the following link: https://theindependen.wpengine.com/2012/07/06/chiadzwa-diamond-fieldschinese-owned-firms-financing-cio-operations/

Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on yamamotokensan@gmail.com

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