China says a shipment of weapons headed for Zimbabwe is a product of normal trade. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says the ship was unable to unload and now may be heading back for China. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.
For days, the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese ship carrying weapons and ammunition to Zimbabwe, has been in the waters off southern Africa, looking for a place to offload.
The ship last week was docked in the South African port of Durban, but workers there refused to unload the weapons for overland shipment to Zimbabwe, because of concerns that the government of President Robert Mugabe might use them against his political opponents.
Zimbabwe is in deadlock following March 29 parliamentary and presidential elections. The opposition says it won the presidential poll, and it accuses President Mugabe of attempting to cling to power by delaying declaring the result.
At a regular briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said there was nothing wrong with the deal.
She says the contract for what she described as "normal military trade" was signed last year, and has nothing to do with the current situation in Zimbabwe.
She says that since Zimbabwe failed to receive the cargo as scheduled, the ship is considering taking the cargo back to China.
She says the shipping company will determine the specific date and route.
The An Yue Jiang is reported to be carrying 1500 rocket-propelled grenades, 3,000 mortar rounds and mortar tubes, and three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition.
The Chinese spokeswoman urged countries, including the United States, not to politicize a normal commercial activity.
At the briefing, Jiang was also asked about media reports that Chinese troops were seen on the streets of Zimbabwe. She acknowledged a Chinese presence in the African nation, but said only that there are a few Chinese teachers at Zimbabwean military schools.
Zimbabwe and China have close ties. The countries signed extensive trade pacts a few years ago, after western governments ostracized Zimbabwean President Mugabe over human-rights abuses.