Shanghai - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday thanked China for its steadfast support as he visited the World Expo in Shanghai and called for help in reviving his country's shattered economy.
Mugabe expressed his deep gratitude to Beijing and called for deeper cooperation, at a time when his country is struggling with a decade of acute food shortages.
"China has always stood by Zimbabwe," Mugabe said as he presided over Zimbabwe Day at the Expo.
"It is thus natural and logical for us to forge a strategic relationship with an all-weather friend as the People's Republic of China."
China is not a party to international sanctions on Mugabe, who is the subject of a Western travel ban and asset freeze.
He spoke a day after the United Nations' food agencies said 133 000 tonnes of food aid would be needed to help 1.68m Zimbabweans between now and the next harvest in May.
Once a breadbasket of southern Africa, Zimbabwe's food shortages have been brought on by drought and Mugabe's crippling land-reform programme.
Mugabe said his country had "immensely benefited" from China's "generosity in several areas, including the supply of agricultural materials, and food assistance where inclement weather has affected our harvests."
He called for Beijing to expand cooperation with Zimbabwe under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, through which China invests in African countries in exchange for oil, copper and other materials it needs to fuel its breakneck economic expansion.
China has invested billions of dollars in Africa, raising eyebrows in the West, but many African leaders have praised China for not preaching about human rights and corruption.
With Zimbabwe's economy crippled by widespread problems, mining is the country's main foreign currency earner. Zimbabwe has huge coal, gold, platinum and diamond deposits.
Zimbabwe was due to resume selling diamond stocks on Wednesday - which Mugabe says have the potential to revive the country - after international investigators confirmed the military had left the blood diamond trade.