HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Thousands of people lined Harare's roads and welcomed Chinese president Xi Jinping, whose visit has raised hopes that China will help stabilize Zimbabwe's faltering economy.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe greeted Xi at the airport, where some immigration signs are in Chinese, indicating China's importance to this southern African country.
Xi inspected a guard of honor at the airport but did not speak on his arrival. He is expected to address a joint press conference with Mugabe after signing economic deals later on Tuesday.
China is Zimbabwe's biggest foreign investor, pumping in $600 million in 2013, according to Chinese ambassador to Harare Huang Ping. Mugabe and Xi are expected to sign several "mega deals," said Ping.
Chinese nationals, Zimbabwean schoolchildren and people wearing shirts of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party held Zimbabwe and Chinese flags for up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) along the road to Harare International Airport. Others wore T-shirts praising the friendship between Zimbabwe and China.
Xi is in Zimbabwe until Wednesday before heading to South Africa for a forum on cooperation between Africa and China as he works to strengthen ties with this continent that is a key supplier to Beijing of oil, minerals, tobacco and cotton.
China's growth in Africa has slowed over the past two years as the weakening Chinese economy demands fewer of Africa's resources, although overall trade topped $200 billion last year.
Mugabe, whose country is struggling with mass company closures, high unemployment, low liquidity and foreign direct investment and food shortages, has said he and the Chinese leader will discuss "some of the projects and programs we want China to assist us in undertaking."
China's imports from Zimbabwe include gold, diamonds, platinum, tobacco, nickel and chrome. China has invested in construction, energy and telecommunications projects in Zimbabwe.