China hails new Zimbabwe leader, denies role in transition

China on Monday congratulated Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Mnangagwa but denied it played any part in his takeover or in the ousting of strongman Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's army chief General Constantine Chiwenga visited Beijing shortly before the political crisis erupted in Harare, leading to questions about whether Beijing had any role in the power transition.

China had long been one of Mugabe's most powerful allies and a major trade partner, as the West shunned him over his government's human rights violations.

Calling the army chief's visit a pre-arranged and "normal interaction", foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denied any involvement in Zimbabwean politics.

"It was planned long before and it was also approved by the former President Mugabe," Geng said. 

"China always upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs and this remains unchanged." 

Beijing pointedly did not take sides after the army put Mugabe under house arrest earlier this month. Last week the Chinese foreign ministry declared that it respected his decision to resign but praised him as a "good friend" of China.

Relations between the two countries date back to the liberation struggle of the 1960s, when Beijing provided arms and trained some of the top guerrilla leaders.

During those years, Mnangagwa received training in China. 

Nicknamed "the Crocodile" for his ruthlessness, Mnangagwa was Zimbabwe's vice president until his sacking earlier this month, which ultimately led to Mugabe's downfall. 

"We congratulate President Mnangagwa on his inauguration," Geng said. 

"We firmly support Zimbabwe following a path that supports its own national conditions and we believe under the leadership of Mr Mnangagwa Zimbabwe's national development will make further progress." 

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