Harare - China Development Bank could fund up to $10bn in Chinese investment in Zimbabwe's mining and agriculture sector, a big boost for a country struggling to attract foreign investors, a government minister said on Monday.
Isolated by the West over charges of human rights abuses and election fraud, President Robert Mugabe has increasingly looked for help from China, which is pushing onto the continent in search of natural resources for its expanding economy.
"We have met with officials from China Development Bank and they have said they are willing to invest up to $10bn in Zimbabwe," Tapiwa Mashakada, minister of economic planning and investment promotion, told Reuters on the sidelines of a business conference in Harare.
Such an investment would dwarf Zimbabwe's gross domestic product (GDP), which is expected to be about $6bn this year.
No immediate comment was available from the Chinese embassy in Harare.
Mashakada told the conference he expected Zimbabwe to produce about 1.5 million tonnes of maize in 2011, up from 1.3 million a year before. He saw gold production hitting 13 tonnes in 2011, up from 8.3 tonnes in 2010.
Zimbabwe also has the world's second largest platinum reserves.
China is "looking into mining development, that is exploration and exploitation, agriculture, infrastructure development and information communication technology," said Mashakada, a minister from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party.
He would not say if the investment would come this year.
The announcement could be aimed at trying to prod Western investors to sink more money into Zimbabwe out of fear they will lose ground to China.
China's investment has been growing steadily in Zimbabwe over the last decade but it still lags behind what Beijing invests in neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.
A unity government formed between Mugabe and Tsvangirai in 2009 has brought stability to an economy crushed by hyperinflation about two years ago.
However, the authorities have failed to attract foreign investment, especially from traditional Western investors who want more political reforms and are worried about a law that says 51% of firms worth over $500 000 should be owned by black Zimbabweans.
China's exports to Zimbabwe amounted to $159m in 2010 while the southern African country exported $57m worth of goods, according to official figures.
Analysts accuse Beijing of ignoring human rights abuses by African leaders as it pursues the resources needed to fuel its rapid economic growth.
Chinese investors have snapped up commercial and residential properties in the capital Harare over the past few years.
"The Chinese are now moving towards strict due diligence, accountability and transparency. At the end of the day this really depends on us, how we position ourselves as a destination for investment," said Mashakada.
"China is coming in a very big way."