China said on Wednesday that Zimbabwe military chief Gen. Constantino Chiwenga’s visit to China on Friday was a normal military visit, after the southern African nation’s military said it had seized power.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that China is closely watching the situation in Zimbabwe and hopes that relevant parties can properly handle their internal affairs.
Zimbabwe’s military took control targeting “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe but gave assurances on national television that the 93-year-old leader and his family were “safe and sound”.
Chiwenga met Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan in Beijing on Friday, where Chang expressed a willingness to promote relations with Zimbabwe, China’s Defence Ministry said.
The ministry showed a picture of the two men, both wearing military uniform, shaking hands, and another one of officers from both countries sitting opposite each other holding a meeting at the People’s Liberation Army headquarters in Beijing.
Asked whether Chiwenga had briefed China on plans to seize power, Shuang said the Defence Ministry had already released information about his trip and that he didn’t have an understanding about the specifics of his reception in China.
“I can only tell you that his visit to China this time was a normal military exchange mutually agreed upon by China and Zimbabwe,” Geng said, referring other questions to the Defence Ministry, which has yet to respond to a request for comment.
“As a country that is friendly with Zimbabwe, we are paying close attention to developments of the situation in Zimbabwe,” Geng added.
“Maintaining peaceful and stable development accords with the fundamental interests of Zimbabwe and regional countries, and is the common desire of the international community.
“We hope the relevant parties in Zimbabwe appropriately handle their internal matters.”
In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.
China and Zimbabwe have a close diplomatic and economic relationship and Beijing has stood with Mugabe’s government in the face of Western economic sanctions.
That same year, China vetoed a proposed Western-backed U.N. resolution which would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and financial and travel restrictions on Mugabe and 13 other officials, saying it would “complicate”, rather than ease, conflict.