Mugabe says 'friendly' China vows to help Zimbabwe economy

HARARE (AFP) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, returning from a state visit to China, said Sunday Beijing had pledged to assist his southern African country's ailing economy "to the best of its ability".

China will "continue to be as friendly to us as it was before ... The support we have asked for in the various areas, China will provide to the best of its ability," Mr Mugabe said in comments carried on Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television after his arrival.

Mr Mugabe, who won disputed elections last year, made a 13th trip to China this week to drum up investment for energy, infrastructure development and transport sectors in his impoverished state.

The 90-year-old, a former guerrilla and Africa's longest-serving leader, and his ministers signed various agreements in Beijing whose details are yet to be released. Zimbabwe faces a severe liquidity crunch, high unemployment and minimal economic activity.

The central bank last week said foreign investment in Zimbabwe halved in the first six months of the year and called for the country to "fight the negative perception" scaring off capital. Scorned in the West, Mr Mugabe has adopted a "look East" policy, forging new ties and buttressing existing ones with east Asian countries, including China.

China has a long list of business interests in Zimbabwe which span the mining, agriculture and construction sectors. It invested more in non-financial sectors in Zimbabwe than in any other country on the continent last year, exceeding US$602 million (S$751.74), according to Chinese government figures cited by Xinhua news agency.

Once the breadbasket of southern African, Zimbabwe now imports basic goods from neighbouring countries and is grappling with unemployment of around 80 per cent. It was forced to slash its growth forecast for the year from 6.1 per cent to 3.1 per cent due to weak economic activity. Investors have been scared off by Harare's controversial indigenisation law, which requires foreign firms to hand over 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans.

Earlier this year, Harare said it would amend the law.

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