BEIJING: China on Wednesday said it respected Robert Mugabe's decision to step down as president of Zimbabwe and vowed to continue "friendly" relations with the country it backed during his authoritarian rule.
China became a major political and economic partner of Mugabe's regime over the years as the West shunned the veteran leader over his government's human rights violations.
But the Asian power has avoided taking sides since the military took over and placed Mugabe under house arrest last week.
Zimbabwe's Mugabe resigns, ending four decades of rule
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang praised Mugabe, 93, for his "historic contributions" to Zimbabwe's independence and his commitment to the friendship between the two countries.
"China respects Mr. Mugabe's decision to resign, and he is still a good friend of the Chinese people," Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.
The spokesperson also said China was ready to work with those in power in Zimbabwe.
"Our friendly policy towards Zimbabwe will not change. We want to continue to follow the principles of equality, mutual benefits, and win-win cooperation," Lu said.
Mugabe resigned on Tuesday, swept from power as his 37 years of authoritarian rule crumbled within days of a military takeover.
Zimbabwe's ruling party set to sack Mugabe
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, awaited to see who would replace him.
Former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking earlier this month led to Mugabe's downfall, was expected to return home on Wednesday, his aide said.
Mugabe adopted a "look east" policy and Chinese President Xi Jinping was one of the rare foreign heads of state to visit Harare when he made a stop there in 2015.
When Mugabe visited Beijing in 2014, Xi lionised him as an "old friend" of the Chinese people.
Mnangagwa also has historical ties with China, having undergone military training in the Asian country before joining Zimbabwe's struggle for independence from Britain.
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