By Liu Yunyun (Assistant Executive Editor of Beijing Review)
It came as a big surprise to China that the long-time leader of Zimbabwe and an old friend of China’s had been confined and forced to resign in a “military coup,” despite the fact that many had long questioned whether the nation’s revolutionary leader could effectively lead the poverty-stricken nation to industrialisation and modernisation.
Though his resignation is deemed celebratory by many – some of his people and the so-called media elites from the West – his achievements and failures are part of the nation’s history and legacy which will remain true and significant in understanding this Southern African nation.
Mugabe visited China several times in the hope of finding support for his government and also the Chinese “secret” to success. But unfortunately, as our great reformer Deng Xiaoping had said to his entourage, after his meetings with Mugabe, “He won’t listen.”
China was once in the same international and domestic position as Zimbabwe: poor, backward, and with foreign sanctions. But eventually, after many twists and turns, it found out its own path for economic and social development, which is: making policy changes in accordance with its own national condition without blindly copying others’ way of governance.
When it became evident that the former Soviet Union socialist approach could not help Zimbabwe, Mugabe did not draw lessons from the failure of the “big brother,” but instead, continued down the road of proactive policies in various fields, including the land ownership.
Looking back on history, there are some lessons to be learnt from the rise and fall of Mugabe: reform the system when it is necessary; put aside ideological debate while focusing on development; set up a legal base for transition of power and tenure system. Nonetheless, it’s always easier said than done. It is widely expected that his successor can move the nation forward, however difficult it now seems.
Resigned or not, Mugabe has been, is now, and will always be China’s good friend, and so also his country, Zimbabwe. As China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, China has always adhered to the principle of not interfering in internal affairs of other countries and respects Zimbabwean people’s choice and the choice of Mugabe too. China is committed to cooperation with Zimbabwe to improve the well-being of its people regardless of who its leader will be.