Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang calls for stability in Zimbabwe

HARARE (AFP) - Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang on Wednesday urged Zimbabwe to ensure peace and political stability ahead of elections this year, to safeguard economic growth.

"A peaceful and stable political environment is the pre-requisite for economic development," Mr Wang told journalists after meeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare during a business visit to Zimbabwe.

Mr Wang's comments came as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe signed the country's new Constitution into law, clearing the path to crucial elections expected later this year.

Political upheaval that followed the last elections in 2008 sent the country's economy into a tailspin marked by an astronomical rate of inflation of 231 per cent that year.

China has a long list of business interests in Zimbabwe, which span the mining, agriculture and construction sectors.

A Chinese mining company, Anjin, is one of the few outfits with rights to mine diamonds at the controversial Chiadzwa fields in eastern Zimbabwe.

Another Chinese company has built a US$98 million (S$122 million) defence college in the country and extended a US$150 million loan to refurbish the airport at Zimbabwe's prime tourist attraction, Victoria Falls.

Mr Tsvangirai, formerly a fiery union leader, said Chinese businesses were welcome to invest in Zimbabwe as long as they respect local labour laws.

"We would like to assure you that we welcome Chinese investment on a win-win basis," he said.

Mr Wang, who is visiting Zimbabwe this week, said he had already met Chinese investors in the country and told them to "make money in a moral manner".

In earlier talks with Mr Mugabe, Mr Wang discussed ways to boost cooperation in agriculture, water supply, education, health and infrastructure development.