Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday commended Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa for the “achievements made within months” of his coming to power following a military coup.
The 75-year-old African leader met Xi on Tuesday in Beijing during his first state visit to China as Zimbabwe’s first new president in 37 years. The former vice-president led the group that ousted 94-year-old Robert Mugabe, one of the world’s longest serving dictators, in a bloodless takeover late last year.
“Last November, Zimbabwe experienced a peaceful political power transition that won general support from the international community,” Xi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster China National Radio.
“Within the short time that President Mnangagwa has been in power, he has achieved positive results in his reformative plans to develop the country’s economy and improve people’s livelihoods,” he said, adding that China was happy to have Zimbabwe as a “good friend, partner and brother”.
Beijing’s growing ties with African nations in recent years – it has been the biggest investor in the continent since 2009 – have sparked concern on the world stage. Its role in Zimbabwe’s power change, in particular, fuelled suspicion as the head of the African country’s military, who was part of the coup, paid a state visit to Beijing just days before Mugabe was put under house arrest.
Although China has denied any involvement in the coup, just days after it happened, Xi sent his envoy and assistant foreign minister Chen Xiaodong to Harare to pass on his congratulations to Mnangagwa, according to Chinese state media.
Mnangagwa was accompanied on his visit to Beijing by 10 cabinet ministers and about 80 private sector business executives. He was quoted as saying earlier that the primary goal of the trip was to sell Zimbabwe as a destination for Chinese investment.
In his meeting with Xi, he played up his personal ties to the country, which date back to the 1960s and Zimbabwe’s struggle for liberation. He was quoted as saying that his memories of receiving military and ideological training in China as one Zimbabwe’s top guerilla leaders at the time were still “fresh”.
According to the radio report, the two leaders are keen to “upgrade” China-Zimbabwe relations into a “full-scale strategic cooperative partnership”.
It also quoted Mnangagwa as expressing his support for the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Xi’s pet trade and infrastructure development plan to boost China’s connectivity and influence across Eurasia and Africa.
Shortly before his sacking last month, former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused China of engaging in neocolonialism in Africa and Latin America by exploiting resources, creating a “debt trap” and taking away sovereignty under the guise of the belt and road plan.
China is Zimbabwe’s fourth-largest trading partner and its biggest investor, with the value of its stakes in everything from agriculture to construction running into billions of US dollars.
After promising to hold a presidential election this year, Mnangagwa is keen to rebuild investor confidence and convince the Zimbabwean electorate that he can rescue the country’s shattered economy, which since 2009 has been using the US currency in a bid to combat hyperinflation.
Years of political chaos and the accusations of human rights violations levelled at Mugabe also left Zimbabwe facing isolation and economic sanctions from the West, including the US and European Union.