China's President Xi Jinping has hailed Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe - a pariah in the West - as a renowned African liberation leader and an "old friend" of the Chinese people.

The former guerrilla turned Africa's longest-ruling leader, now 90, was on his 13th trip to China, seeking more Chinese investment in his nation's stagnant economy.

"The traditional friendship between China and Zimbabwe was forged in the glorious years when we stood shoulder to shoulder against imperialism, colonialism and hegemony," Xi told Mugabe - who is subject to sanctions by the
US and European Union - at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

"The Chinese people value friendship and we will never forget those good friends and good brothers who have shown mutual understanding and support vis-a-vis China and who have come through thick and thin with us."

Xi also called the Zimbabwean president a "renowned leader of the African national liberation movement" and "an old friend of the Chinese people whom we respect very much".

[Mugabe is] a renowned leader of the African national liberation movement.

Xi Jinping, China's president

Felt 'at home'

Mugabe said he felt "very much at home", thanking Xi for the invitation which reminded him of the past and "brings our past to the present".

Zimbabwe's relations with China and the Chinese Communist Party date back to the liberation struggle of the 1970s, when Beijing provided arms and trained some of the top guerrilla leaders.

Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan greeted Mugabe and his wife Grace with full military honours, the AFP news agency reported. A band played the two countries' national anthems as a 21-gun salute was fired and the two presidents inspected a military honour guard.

Zimbabwe's state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper quoted Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba as saying the five-day state visit was "largely looking for investment of an infrastructure nature", with the focus on energy and transport.

The two leaders watched as officials signed nine agreements, including some on loans and food donations, but no values were given.

Zhang Ming, vice foreign minister for African affairs, said Xi and Mugabe stressed expanding and improving relations and also discussed broader African and international issues.

"Economically the two sides should continue to seek mutual benefit and common development and be good partners in this regard," Zhang told reporters.

'Look east policy'

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, his more than three decades in power starting amid optimism but eventually characterised by corruption and mismanagement leading to hyperinflation and enduring economic crisis, along with brutal crackdowns against political opposition.

In the face of Western opprobrium he adopted a "look east" policy, forging new ties and buttressing existing ones with east Asian countries including China.

Beijing's diplomatic and economic footprint across Africa has expanded hugely in recent years, as it seeks resources to power its economy.

It dismisses concerns over rights abuses, arguing that it does not interfere in other countries' internal affairs.

China invested more in non-financial sectors in Zimbabwe than in any other country on the continent last year, exceeding $602m, the official Xinhua news agency cited Chinese government figures as saying.

Source: AFP