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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 17:54 GMT
China ships food aid to Zimbabwe
Shoppers walk past empty shelves (Demond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images)
Empty shelves are a common sight in Zimbabwean supermarkets
China is sending 5,000 metric tons of food aid to Zimbabwe, official media reports, to help the African nation cope with dire food shortages.

China's deputy ambassador to Zimbabwe made the announcement, adding that the two countries wanted to increase trade to $500m (253m) in 2008.

More than 3m Zimbabweans, 25% of the population, depend on UN food aid.

An official crop assessment after last year's harvest in May estimated the country had about a 1m ton shortfall.

The UN World Food Programme said last year that a poor harvest and the country's worsening economic situation meant hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans were running out of food.

It said the crisis was set to peak between November and March.

China has been expanding its presence in southern Africa.

'Reliable friend'

Deputy Chinese ambassador Ma Deyun said the food aid "will soon arrive", Zimbabwe's official Herald newspaper reported.

She was speaking at a ceremony marking the delivery of 97 Chinese-made trucks, fulfilling an order from the Zimbabwean government.

"The Chinese people will be an equal, sincere and reliable friend... of the Zimbabwean people," Ms Deyun said.

China has expanded its economic relationship with Zimbabwe as the West enforces strict sanctions on the government of President Robert Mugabe.

The country is suffering from the world's highest rate of inflation, mass unemployment and shortages of fuel and basic goods.

The United States and European Union accuse Mr Mugabe of running the economy into the ground and disregarding human rights.

Zimbabwe accuses the West of seeking the overthrow of the government.

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