Chinese President Xi Jinping was met with a 21-gun salute as he arrived Tuesday in Zimbabwe, where there are high hopes that his country will help revive the struggling southern African economy.
President Robert Mugabe met Xi at the airport before the two were driven to Mugabe’s farm, about 40 kilometres north of Harare.
The leaders are expected to sign a range of agreements on energy, transport, telecommunications and infrastructure. A press conference was expected to held later Tuesday.
“China has been our all weather friend ever since the west started shunning us,” Christopher Mutsvangwa, the former Zimbabwean ambassador to China who nows serves as a minister in Mugabe’s government, told dpa.
“We are expecting several deals to be sealed during this two-day visit.”
Xi will travel to South Africa on Wednesday for a China-Africa cooperation summit.
The seizure of land from about 6,000 white farmers and human rights abuses soured Zimbabwe’s relations with the European Union and the United States, which imposed travel bans and asset freezes on dozens of powerful individuals.
Mugabe sought a new ally in China, but as loan arrears have accumulated, Beijing has become reluctant to release more money to prop up the Zimbabwean economy.
China is Zimbabwe’s top foreign investor, injecting 2.7 billion dollars into the country between 2010 and 2013, according to the Zimbabwe Investment Authority.
That is far above neighboring South Africa – the regional superpower – whose companies only invested about a billion dollars between 2003 and 2013, by its own account.
Beijing is also one of Harare’s biggest trading partners, with bilateral trade amounting to more than a billion dollars annually.