China's Xi ties with Zimbabwe's Mugabe
Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on arrival for a state visit in Harare, Zimbabwe December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is in China, where President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed its commitment to strong bilateral relations with Zimbabwe, which is desperate needs financial assistance to aid its struggling economy.

While Western nations accuse China of turning a blind eye to rights abuses and conflicts, many African heads of state – including Mugabe, who is widely criticised for his country's poor human rights record – praise the Chinese leader.

Mugabe in December 2015 described Xi as a "true and dear friend" of Zimbabwe, as Zimbabwe adopted its Look East policy to boost investment and economic cooperation deals. China vowed it would not interfere in African countries' internal affairs and the pair signed mega-deals worth nearly $4bn (£2.65bn) in key economic sectors, including power, telecommunications and infrastructure.

92-year-old Mugabe, who is on his usual annual leave, combined a business visit to his Chinese counterpart on 9 January, and the pair discussed political and economic ties between both countries.

"The two leaders had occasion to review the relationship between them, bilateral relations and international issues. Remember that this is the third time the two are meeting following their meeting in August 2014 and in December 2015," Zimbabwe's ambassador to China, Paul Chikawa is quoted as saying by the Chronicle.

Following the meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in the capital Beijing, Xi said he was willing to expand cooperation, after the heads of state discussed the implementation of the multi-billion dollar deals by which Chinese companies go into partnerships and joint-ventures with Zimbabwean firms in a bid to turn the nation's economy around.

"There has been commitment at the highest level and what now remains is for the relevant players to convert the agreement into concrete deliverables. It is no longer a question of whether the deals are likely to move but rather an issue of the deals definitely moving," Chikawa added.

Mugabe's cash-strapped government has been appealing to international leaders for financing, to counter acute food shortages and deepening economic crisis. Since 2000, over a 15-year period, Mugabe carried out his controversial Fast Track Land Reform Programme, prompting the West to impose sanctions on the Zimbabwe government and the ruling Zanu-PF.