‘Bloodless’ takeover ‘won’t dampen’ Chinese investment in Zimbabwe

Chinese foreign ministry says Zimbabwean military chief’s visit to Beijing last week was part of normal armed forces exchanges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 10:24pm

China will continue to invest in its “all-weather friend” Zimbabwe despite a military takeover of the African country’s government, observers said.

Zimbabwe’s military appeared to be in control of the capital on Wednesday, apparently ending the three-decade rule of 93-year-old Robert Mugabe.

The transition came just days after Zimbabwean military chief General Constantino Chiwenga visited Beijing.

‘Not a military takeover’: Zimbabwean army denies staging a coup despite President Robert Mugabe reportedly being held under house arrest

But when asked whether China – Zimbabwe’s long-time ally and investor – was being briefed then on the takeover, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was “not aware of the details” because the defence ministry handled the trip.

“What I can tell you is that his [Chiwenga’s] visit was a normal military exchange as agreed by the two countries,” Geng said.

He added that China was closely watching the situation in Zimbabwe and hoped that relevant parties could properly handle their internal affairs.

Zimbabwe is one of China’s closest allies in Africa, and on a state visit in 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping described it as one of his country’s “all-weather friends”.

China is also Zimbabwe’s biggest source of foreign currency and top trading partner, having invested in more than 128 projects in the African country between 2000 and 2012.

‘His real obsession was not wealth but power’: Robert Mugabe planned to rule Zimbabwe until he turned 100 but time in charge may be running out

John Akokpari, an international relations specialist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said he would not be surprised if Chiwenga sought to shore up ties with Beijing before the move.

“It should not be too surprising if [Chiwenga] wanted to ensure political changes would not anger China because of the close ties between the countries,” Akokpari said.

He said China would not have had an active role in the takeover but the development did dovetail with Beijing’s hopes that Zimbabwe would resolve its political infighting.

Crocodile smile: is this man poised to lead Zimbabwe after Mugabe?

While military vehicles encircled government buildings and the president’s home on Wednesday morning, the armed forces said it was a “bloodless transition of power”.

“China is largely friendly towards African countries, and has remained so despite regime change. As long as the transition is largely peaceful, I do not see a decrease in interest from China in investing in Zimbabwe,” Akokpari said.

Chinese observers said the absence of widespread violence associated with the takeover meant the transition would have little impact on Chinese businesses and construction plans in the country.

China’s Xi Jinping hails Mugabe's Zimbabwe as 'all-weather friend' on his return to Africa as dynamics shift

Wang Hongyi, from the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said political tensions had been building in Zimbabwe for a long time.

“The state of Zimbabwe was careening off a cliff,” Wang said.

Shen Xiaolei, also from the academy, agreed, adding that he was optimistic about the country’s future.

“Conditions in Zimbabwe have been very bad for Chinese businesses in the past two years,” Shen said.

“Opening up the country and its economy is the only choice left for the country to go forward. Whoever becomes the next leader of Zimbabwe should know that.”