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China urges Mugabe to expand economic ties

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BEIJING — Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe won praise on Wednesday as a great African figure and “old friend” of Beijing, underscoring China’s commitment to boosting business ties to a leader shunned by Western governments.

China’s Vice-President Xi Jinping told Mugabe (87) that China wants to expand farming, mining and infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe, where a campaign to transfer ownership of land and mines to locals has caused widespread economic hardship and deterred Western foreign investment.

Xi, likely to succeed Hu Jintao as China’s President from early 2013, voiced no such criticisms, according to an account of his meeting by the Chinese Foreign ministry (www.mfa.gov.cn).

“His excellency the President is a famed leader of the national liberation movement in Africa, and also an old friend whom the Chinese people know well,” said Xi, whose name is pronounced “Shee”.

“China is willing to join hands with Zimbabwe, enhance friendly exchanges, and expand practical cooperation,” he added.

The report did not say whether the two leaders reached any commercial agreements. Shunned by the West, Mugabe has increasingly sought help elsewhere, especially in China, whose companies covet the mineral resources of the Southern African country.

Zimbabwe has demanded that most foreign mining companies in Zimbabwe surrender 51% of their local equity to blacks in the country.

But Zimbabwe has excluded Chinese mining firms from the demand, sending a signal to foreign miners that if they do not agree to the demands, they could lose their prospecting rights to Chinese competitors.

In March, China signed nearly $700 million in loan deals with Zimbabwe, and urged the government to protect Chinese firms from nationalisation plans.

China’s investments have been growing steadily in Zimbabwe and include diamond and chrome mining, platinum concessions, road construction, cotton and tobacco companies as well as a cement manufacturing plant.

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