PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's maiden visit to China appears to be the strongest signal yet that China is planning for the future beyond President Robert Mugabe and recognises that the MDC-T could take over the reins of power following Zimbabwe's next elections.
The Asian giant's economy is widely expected to become the world's biggest economy by 2020.
Tsvangirai met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, and, according to a statement from Tsvangirai's office, told him "with the support of ... friends such as China, we will be able to hold a free and fair election in Zimbabwe,".
Tsvangirai visited China at the invitation of the Chinese government in what that country's outgoing ambassador Xin Shunkang termed "a familiarisation tour", but is seen by some as a sign that the country is actively courting Mugabe's opposition.
Jonathan Gandari, an international relations specialist and former post-graduate student in China said the visit also proved that support from China was the most realistic proposition for the coalition government at the moment.
The unity government is broke and the West has been demanding that it must fully implement the Global Political Agreement before it loosens its purse strings.
"Beijing is looking ahead and preparing for a new dispensation," said Gandari. "The policy wisdom in China is 'it does not matter if the cat is black or white so long as it catches the rat'."
Gandari said the visit was "symbolic and substantive".
Economist Godfrey Kanyenze agreed that China is now a major player in the world economy and it makes sense to look in that direction.
"China is an emerging economy and recently became the second largest economy in the world," said Kanyenze. "It is the only centre with economic growth after turmoil in the United States and Western Europe; therefore, this visit makes economic sense," said Kanyenze.
However, he warned that any deals must be negotiated openly and benefit the country and broader economy.
"The discussions should be held more transparently and openly to involve a broader array of participants so that the nation would benefit. The negotiations should also include infrastructural development," said Kanyenze.
Regional programme advisor for the United Nations Development Programme's Africa Governance and Public Administration Brian Kagoro told a conference in South Africa last week that Chinese investments were not bad per se, but African governments should be able to negotiate the best deals for themselves when entering such deals.
Most African countries have been left underdeveloped after interacting with the Chinese as most of the investments are largely in the extractive industries.
China is engaged in oil extraction in Sudan while in Zambia and Zimbabwe it is involved in mining copper, diamonds and other minerals.