Will Mugabe’s Resignation Benefit China?

Six days after a dramatic takeover by Zimbabwe’s military, Robert Mugabe ended 37 years in power by resigning as the country’s President.

Early in his political career, Mugabe was widely regarded as a hero who stood up against white rule. On Tuesday, 21 November, Mugabe would be remembered for his despotic reign and the man who murdered Zimbabwe’s economy.

Even in resignation, despite being fired by his party the ruling ZANU – PF, the 93- year old Mugabe remained defiant as evidenced by his statement as read by Speaker of parliament, Jacob Mudenda.

“My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power.”

World leaders from the United Kingdom and the United States expressed caution and hoped for a peaceful transition of power. But the most interested spectator on the proceedings may be China.

During Mugabe’s reign as President, China became the third largest partner of Zimbabwe and its biggest investor. China’s influence may further increase under the administration of Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa who received military training from China decades ago.

In 2015, Mnangagwa proposed that the Chinese Yuan become the nation’s legal tender as Zimbabwe frequently grappled with spiralling inflation rates. The Yuan was adopted along with other currencies although the U.S. Dollar remained the strongest.

Unlike Mugabe who remained staunch with his nationalistic ideals, Mnangagwa preferred an open economy setup.

Zimbabwe was a beneficiary of China’s official development assistance program from 2000 to 2014. Other beneficiaries included Cuba, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.

The financial aid is generally an exchange program that allows China to have access to the beneficiary country’s natural resources like gold, diamonds and various minerals.

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Zimbabwe and came away with 12 deals with a reported value of $4 Billion that included investments in power generation, infrastructure and pharmaceuticals.

Although the Chinese government has not formally issued a statement on its position regarding the change in Zimbabwe’s presidency, it was reported that Zimbabwean army chief Constantino Chiwenga visited Beijing on 5 November and personally met with Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.

Shen Xiaolei, a researcher in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences which is China’s think tank believes that a Mnangagwa administration will be more beneficial to China:

“Mnangagwa has a more open and moderate approach in economic policies and is also a friend of China. Mugabe’s receding power is just a matter of time, and sooner is better than later because it can help stabilise the domestic situation.”