One aspect of the coup d’etat in Zimbabwe (Chaos in Zimbabwe after Mugabe refuses to resign, 20 November) is highly significant for Britain and the wider world: it has been suggested that shortly before the coup the head of the army, General Constantino Chiwenga, visited China to obtain tacit Chinese government support for the move.

That is a stunning indication of the importance of China to Zimbabwe, especially to its elite, and of the complete eclipse of the influence of Britain as the former colonial power.

Similarly, despite the 2009 dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy and the US’s status as supposedly the world’s only superpower, American views carry little weight in Harare.

Zimbabwe is only one of many countries where China is acquiring an overseas empire of investment and influence. For example, Chinese companies now have investments in mining in almost every southern African country – from Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania southwards.

This year China opened its first permanent overseas military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. In south Asia, Chinese military advice and support were crucial to the Sri Lankan government’s 2009 defeat of the Tamil Tigers in the long-running civil war.

It is time the British government and people woke up to our insignificance and vulnerability in the world and started to take the necessary measures to improve our economy, strengthen our armed forces and reduce our national debt.