China downplays visit from Zimbabwe army chief as 'normal'
In this Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Zimbabwe's Army Commander, Constantino Chiwenga addresses a press conference in Harare. (AP / Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, November 15, 2017 7:13AM EST
BEIJING -- A visit to Beijing last week by Zimbabwean army commander Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, who appears to have taken control of the country, was a "normal military exchange," China's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Asked whether Chiwenga briefed Chinese officials on any plans for a military takeover in Zimbabwe, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that the Defence Ministry had handled arrangements for the visit and he was "not aware of the details."
"What I can tell you is that his visit was a normal military exchange as agreed by the two countries," Geng said at a regularly scheduled news conference.
In a Nov. 10 posting on its microblog, the Defence Ministry showed Chiwenga smiling and shaking hands with Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan at the ministry in central Beijing. A separate photo showed the two seated with their delegations at a conference table.
China has been a resolute supporter of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe despite rising international criticism over his authoritarian rule and human rights violations. Military ties between the sides date from Chinese support for Zimbabwe's armed struggle against white minority rule in the 1970s.
Mugabe and his family also have close ties to the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong, where they were involved in a legal case involving a luxury property and his daughter Bona was a university student.
Mugabe's wife Grace was also accused by a photographer of assaulting him during a shopping excursion in the city in 2009. Mugabe left the territory without being charged.