China says Mugabe is an old friend
Beijing - China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping called Robert Mugabe "an old friend of China" on Wednesday, state media said, as the Zimbabwean president visited the country to attend his daughter's graduation.
At a meeting between the two in Beijing, Mugabe - who has been accused of widespread human rights abuses in his country - also said he appreciated China's support, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Calling Mugabe "an old friend of China", Xi, who is currently vice president, said Beijing wanted to co-operate further with Zimbabwe in "trade, agriculture, mining and infrastructure", the report said.
"China... supports Zimbabwe to explore its own development path in accordance with its national conditions," Xi - widely expected to take over from current President Hu Jintao in 2013 - was quoted as saying.
China has invested billions of dollars in Africa - including Zimbabwe - raising eyebrows in the West, but many African leaders have praised the rising Asian giant for not preaching about human rights and corruption.
Mugabe's visit comes after he travelled to Hong Kong - to attend his daughter's graduation on Tuesday - with a group of about 20 people including his wife, Grace.
China is not party to international sanctions on Mugabe, who is the subject of a Western travel ban and asset freeze.
During his meeting with Xi, the Zimbabwean President said he wanted to work more closely with China in agriculture, infrastructure and minerals, Xinhua said.
Zimbabwe - which has huge coal, gold, platinum and diamond deposits - suffered a decade of runaway prices and food shortages amid hyperinflation that saw people carry piles of cash in rucksacks to shop for ordinary groceries.
But the economy has stabilised after the government abandoned the worthless local currency in 2009, allowing trade in US dollars and other major foreign currencies.
A power-sharing government formed the same year by Mugabe and his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai has also brought stability to the economy, and eased political unrest that erupted during disputed 2008 polls.
But as possibilities for elections next year have mounted, there have been reports of unrest, with pro-Mugabe militants breaking up rallies by Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.