BEIJING (AFP) — A Chinese ship that sparked international condemnation for attempting to transport weapons to Zimbabwe is being brought back to China, the government said Thursday.
"To my knowledge, the Chinese company has decided to bring back the boat," Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters.
The news comes after the United States asked that China withdraw the weapons shipment destined for Zimbabwe and halt further arms shipments to the increasingly isolated African regime.
"The cargo was not unloaded because the Zimbabwe side failed to receive the goods as scheduled, so the Chinese company made the decision according to this situation," Jiang said.
She reiterated that the contract was signed last year and that it did not break any laws or international obligations.
"Some people in the US are always critical, positioning themselves as the world's policeman, but they are not popular in the world," Jiang said about the US State Department's demand that China halt the shipment.
"It's pointless... to politicise this issue," she said.
The ship, identified as the An Yue Jiang and belonging to COSCO, a state-owned shipping firm, was forced to abandon plans to off-load the arms in the South African port of Durban last week.
This came after activists won a court case which prevented it from transporting the load overland to the Zimbabwe border.
There were fears that the arms could be used to crack down on protests following parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe last month, both of which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says it won.
The ship reportedly then headed towards Angola, but Washington asked Angola and Zimbabwe's other neighbours, including South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia, not to allow it to dock or offload the weapons.
The An Yue Jiang was carrying three million rounds of assault rifle ammunition, 3,000 mortar rounds and 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades, according to its inventory, published by a South African newspaper.
A COSCO official in charge of shipping lines with Africa declined comment when approached by AFP on Thursday.
China is a major foreign supporter of Zimbabwe's beleaguered ruler Robert Mugabe, who has touted a "look East" policy of closer cooperation with the Asian giant.
However, Beijing has shown signs of increasing embarrassment over its close association with Mugabe.
China reportedly said last year that it had decided to halt all assistance to Zimbabwe except humanitarian aid. It was unclear if the order of the weapons cache was signed before that pledge.
The European Parliament said Wednesday that the European Union should maintain an embargo on weapons sales to China as long as Beijing helps armed forces and groups involved in African conflicts.
The parliament adopted a report which said the embargo should continue for "as long as China continues to export arms to armed forces and armed groups in countries, many of them in Africa, that fuels and perpetuates conflicts and perpetrates gross violations of human rights."
Jiang, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, said Thursday the move "ignored facts."
"We always strictly follow (UN) Security Council resolutions, and we never export weapons to countries or regimes on the embargo list, so the European Parliament's resolution is totally irresponsible and groundless," she said.
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