BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday told President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe that they should work towards a new chapter in ties, during the African leader’s first state visit to China since he seized power last year.
Mnangagwa, who was sworn in as president in November after a de facto military coup ended Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, has vowed to rebuild his country’s ravaged economy and re-engage with the international community.
China had considered Mugabe a “good friend” in a relationship dating back to its support for Zimbabwe’s independence war, but pointedly failed to support him when he was ousted.
“I’m willing to work with Mr President to jointly map out our future cooperation and write a new chapter in China-Zimbabwe relations for the benefit of our two peoples,” Xi said, during a meeting in Beijing.
China has growing interest in investing in Africa’s natural resources and has poured more than $100 billion into roads, railways, mines, powerlines and factories on the continent over the last decade.
Trade between China and African countries reached $85.3 billion in the first half of 2017, according to Chinese state media.
Xi said China has been happy to see the economic reform policies that Mnangagwa put in place after the “peaceful, smooth” transfer of power.
Mnangagwa said that Zimbabwe appreciated China’s political support and goodwill and thanked Xi for sending an envoy immediately upon his inauguration.
“That was a great honor,” he said.
China continued to invest in large infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe throughout Mugabe’s rule as his government, sanctioned by Western nations for human rights abuses, increasingly turned to Beijing for help.
With his visit, Zimbabwe would attempt to tap China’s huge financial resources, technical expertise and modern technology in order to help revive the economy, Mnangagwa told the official Xinhua news agency in an interview on Saturday.
In December, Zimbabwe signed a $153 million loan agreement with China to expand and refurbish its international airport in Harare in a bid to attract investors and tourists, the first such deal under the new government.
China’s foreign ministry said a trip to Beijing by Zimbabwe’s military chief one week before the army seized power in the South African nation was a “normal military exchange” amid speculation at the time he had come to brief on plans to seize power.
Mnangagwa is likely to join other African leaders coming to Beijing in September for a summit held once every three years.
Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel