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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Mugabe signs aid deal with China
File photograph of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe has been looking east for economic help
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has signed a deal with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Beijing.

The details have not been made public but China was expected to seek mineral and other trade concessions in exchange for economic help.

Zimbabwe needs hard currency to repay loans or face expulsion from the IMF. There are shortages of fuel and food.

Mr Mugabe has adopted a "Look East" policy, after being ostracised in the West over alleged human rights abuses.

China has promised to help Zimbabwe and to not interfere in "internal affairs".

China "trusts Zimbabwe's government and people have the ability to deal properly with their own matters", a foreign ministry statement said.

"You have made major contributions to the friendly relations between our two countries... I stand ready to have an in-depth exchange of views with your excellency on our bilateral relations," Mr Hu said at the start of their meeting.

Mr Mugabe's spokesman has said Zimbabwe is trying to get lines of credit from China and other Asian countries.

Economic contrast

Mr Mugabe's government is also in talks with South Africa about Zimbabwe's foreign debt.

On Sunday, South African President Thabo Mbeki said his country would be willing to take over part of Zimbabwe's debt to the International Monetary Fund.

Mr Mbeki said the plan would be finalised following talks with the Zimbabwean government and opposition.

China, one of the world's fastest growing economies, is already ranked as one of Zimbabwe's largest trading partners and has supplied buses, civilian and military aircraft to Mr Mugabe's government.

In contrast, Zimbabwe is one of the world's fastest shrinking economies, with high unemployment, soaring inflation and shortages of food and fuel.

Old allies

But Mr Mugabe's six-day visit demonstrates Beijing's growing involvement in the continent.

It also shows China's determination to welcome an old ally, regardless of Mr Mugabe's pariah status in the West, the BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Shanghai says.

The ties between China and Mr Mugabe date back to the 1970s war of independence, when fighters from his Zanu party were armed by the Chinese.

After being accused of rigging elections and oppressing the opposition, Mr Mugabe is subject to a travel ban in the European Union and the United States.

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