China is among the largest exporters of arms to the developing world and is often criticized for exacerbating violent conflicts in Africa. This article examines geopolitical tensions surrounding some of China's most controversial weapons alliances, rethinking the role of the global media, state leaders and non-state actors in forming fragmentary movements of ‘resistance’. Focusing on the tensions around a shipment of Chinese arms to Zimbabwe during a period of mid-election repression and violence in 2008, this article is a media content analysis on the debates about diplomacy, arms embargoes, regime violence, protests against the Beijing Olympics, and efforts by China to counter western critics. The article argues that more rigorous diplomatic efforts to block the weapons were required and that the moral and political hazards of unreflexive foreign policy analysis emboldened the Chinese authorities’ denial of their responsibilities. Beyond the case of Zimbabwe, we suggest that a deeper and wider understanding of ‘geopolitical resistance’ against violence is vital.