A Chinese ship carrying 77 tonnes of weapons bound for Zimbabwe has been recalled, China's foreign ministry has said.
The decision comes after South African port workers refused to unload the vessel, the An Yue Jiang, reported to be carrying thousands of rounds of ammunition rockets and mortar bombs among its cargo.
Zambia, which chairs the Southern African Development Community grouping, had urged other regional states to also bar the ship from entering their waters, saying the arms could deepen Zimbabwe's election crisis and be used in a crackdown on the opposition.
Earlier this week the US state department expressed concerns that the arms "could be used against individuals who are merely trying to freely express their political will".
Commenting on the shipment at a regular foreign ministry press briefing in Beijing, spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the decision had been taken by the Chinese company involved to recall the vessel.
She said the shipment was completely legal and fell within the established norms of international trade.
China has been under pressure to use its close relations with Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, to help mediate in the election crisis.
However William Hess, country manager for China with the consultancy company, Global Insight, said such pressure runs against a key pillar of Chinese foreign policy - not to interfere in domestic political issues of other countries.
Officials from Mugabe's Zanu-PF have said Zimbabwe has a sovereign right to defend itself and buy weapons from "any legitimate source worldwide".
"I don't understand all this hullabaloo about a lone ship," Patrick Chinamasa, the country's justice minister, said in Harare this week.
"We don't need clearance from anyone."
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