Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantino Chiwenga addresses a press conference at KGVI military barracks in Harare. Picture: ANA

Beijing - A trip to Beijing last week by Zimbabwe's military chief was a "normal military exchange", China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, after the military in the southern African nation seized power.

Zimbabwe's military took control targeting "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe but gave assurances on national television that the 93-year-old leader and his family were "safe and sound".

General Constantino Chiwenga met Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan in Beijing on Friday, where Chang expressed a willingness to promote relations with Zimbabwe, China's Defence Ministry said in a short statement last week.

The ministry showed a picture of the two men, both wearing military uniform, shaking hands, and another one of officers from both countries sitting opposite each other holding a meeting at the People's Liberation Army headquarters in Beijing.

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Asked whether Chiwenga had briefed China on plans to seize power, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the Defence Ministry had already released information about his trip and that he didn't have an understanding about the specifics of his reception in China.

"I can only tell you that his visit to China this time was a normal military exchange mutually agreed upon by China and Zimbabwe," Geng said, referring other questions to the Defence Ministry, which has yet to respond to a request for comment.

"As a country that is friendly with Zimbabwe, we are paying close attention to developments of the situation in Zimbabwe," Geng added.

"Maintaining peaceful and stable development accords with the fundamental interests of Zimbabwe and regional countries, and is the common desire of the international community. We hope the relevant parties in Zimbabwe appropriately handle their internal matters."

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In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa's most promising states.

China and Zimbabwe have a close diplomatic and economic relationship and Beijing has stood with Mugabe's government in the face of Western economic sanctions.

In August, Zimbabwe's government said a Chinese company planned to invest up to $2 billion (about R28 billion) to revive operations at Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO), which ceased production in 2008 at the height of Zimbabwe's economic meltdown.

That same year, China vetoed a proposed Western-backed U.N. resolution which would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and financial and travel restrictions on Mugabe and 13 other officials, saying it would "complicate", rather than ease, conflict.