Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, is welcomed by China's President Xi Jinping at a ceremony in Beijing yesterday. Mugabe was seeking a $4 billion (R43bn) rescue package for the economy, the Zimbabwe Independent reported on August 1. Photo: EPA

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe met his counterpart Xi Jinping in China yesterday, weeks after he was snubbed at a summit of African leaders hosted by US President Barack Obama in Washington.

Mugabe, 90, was welcomed with an honour guard outside the Great Hall of the People and received a 21-gun salute. He was serenaded by three women playing traditional Chinese instruments before heading into closed-door meetings with Xi.

Leader of Zimbabwe for 34 years, Mugabe’s seizure of land owned by white farmers and a series of elections marred by violence and irregularities have made him a pariah to governments in West. His country’s ability to borrow from global institutions has been undercut. Yet China has long kept close economic and diplomatic links, with vice-premier Wang Yang paying the country an official visit in May last year.

“Mugabe’s trip to China is to seek a last financial lifeline for his regime,” said Martyn Davies, who heads Frontier Advisory, which provides research on emerging markets. With China reforming its state-owned sector, Mugabe’s party would be “naive to assume that Chinese capital is as easy to get as it has been in previous years”.

Mugabe was seeking a $4 billion (R43bn) rescue package to stabilise his country’s faltering economy, the Zimbabwe Independent reported on August 1, citing sources it did not identify. Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa visited China in January and had been told to come up with a plan, it said.

Zimbabwe risks recession as factories shut, consumer spending slumps and deflation takes hold. Economic growth, which averaged 10 percent from 2009 to 2012, is forecast at 3.1 percent this year, International Monetary Fund data show.

Mugabe, subject to US sanctions, was one of four African leaders not invited by Obama to the Africa summit earlier this month. The others were Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir and leaders from Eritrea and Central African Republic. In April, Zimbabwe boycotted an EU-Africa summit after Mugabe’s wife, Grace, was denied a visa to enter Brussels.

Still, Mugabe won an endorsement from fellow southern African leaders this month when he was named head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Mugabe would “discuss infrastructural projects” with China that “add value” to regional products, he said last week at SADC’s annual summit in Victoria Falls.

“Since countries in the region… endorse Mugabe and his legitimacy, China certainly does not stand alone or feel vulnerable,” said Yun Sun, a fellow with the East Asia Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center. China had long viewed Mugabe as an African liberation leader and supporting Western-style democracy in Africa was not a goal for China, she said.

Mugabe’s chairmanship of SADC meant he had great influence over the agendas of regional organisations, in which China would like to participate as much as possible, she said.

“Mugabe is a good friend of China,” He Wenping, a director at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said. “In Zimbabwe they’re talking about a ‘Looking East’ policy. They’re not only looking for money [but also for] development experiences and for friends.”

Trade between the two nations doubled to $1.1bn between 2010 and 2013, China’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Lin Lin, said on Friday in Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper. China’s investment in 2013 was $602 million, he said. - Bloomberg