China said on Wednesday that it respects Robert Mugabe’s decision to resign as Zimbabwe’s president, a week after the African country’s army and Mugabe’s former political allies moved to end his four decades of rule.
The 93-year-old Mugabe had clung on for a week after an army takeover, and finally resigned on Tuesday, moments after parliament began an impeachment process, prompting dancing in the streets of the capital, Harare.
China has close ties with Zimbabwe and traditionally also with Mugabe himself, who 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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing that China was happy to see Zimbabwe peacefully and appropriately resolve the issue via talks, and that its policy toward the country would not change.
“China respects Mr Mugabe’s decision to resign. He remains a good friend of the Chinese people,” Lu said, adding that Mugabe had made “historic contribution to Zimbabwe’s independence and liberation”.
Zimbabwe’s army seized power after Mugabe sacked his former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was a favorite to succeed him.
Mugabe’s move was an apparent bid to smooth a path to the presidency for his wife Grace, 52, known to her critics as “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping.
Mnangagwa is expected to be sworn in within days and serve the remainder of Mugabe’s term until the next election, which must be held by September 2018.
Asked about a U.S. call for free elections in Zimbabwe, Lu said China believed it could handle its own affairs and China hoped other countries would not interfere.
China and Zimbabwe have a close diplomatic and economic relationship, and China had stood with Mugabe’s government in the face of Western economic sanctions, investing in auto, diamond, tobacco and power-station projects.
In August, Zimbabwe said a Chinese company planned to invest up to $2 billion to revive operations at Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO), which ceased production in 2008 at the height of an economic meltdown.
That year, China vetoed a proposed Western-backed U.N. resolution that 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.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel