HARARE,– Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday opened a revamped road leading to Harare International Airport, six days before Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s visit.
The 12 km road has undergone an overhaul over the last six years to change it into a dual carriageway.
Mugabe said the renovated road would project a positive image of the country to visitors.
“This is the first road for visitors to Zimbabwe, be they dignitaries, foreign investors or even tourists, see as they come into the country,” he said.
Transport Minister Joram Gumbo said it was an honor that the opening of the road came at a time when President Xi Jinping would soon visit the country.
Gumbo hailed China’s longstanding support to Zimbabwe’s development.
“Our relations with China date back to a very long time ago. We have received great support from China over the years,” he told Xinhua, adding Xi’s visit was expected to open “gates and opportunities for more partnerships.”
The new road has become a major infrastructure project completed since the government launched its five-year economic blueprint in 2013.
The government is said to be eager for China’s assistance in developing energy and transport infrastructure to fix the country’s ailing economy.
According to the Chinese embassy in Harare, China’s investment in Zimbabwe hit 601 million U.S. dollars in 2013, surpassing its investment in any other African country of the year.
China has given 1.5 billion U.S. dollar loans, including preferential loans, to Zimbabwe in recent years. Its grants to Zimbabwe over the past three years topped 100 million U.S. dollars.
The Chinese are carrying out a project to expand the country’s second largest power plant by 300 megawatts (MW) due to be completed in 2017.
They have also signed a deal to upgrade the country’s largest power plant Hwange by 600 MW.
China is set to announce new aid to African nations when President Xi Jinping visits Zimbabwe and South Africa next month, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday.
The trip is likely to boost China’s relations with Africa, which supplies oil and raw materials such as copper and uranium to the world’s second-largest economy.
China is Africa’s largest trading partner and the trade volume between them amounted to $220 billion in 2014, according to China state news agency Xinhua.
Zhang Ming, one of China’s vice foreign minister, said President Xi will provide further details in his keynote speech on December 4.
“As for whether China will continue to provide support and aid, there will be no doubt about it,” Zhang said, declining to provide further details on the aid amount and its purpose.
Xi is scheduled to meet Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe on December 1-2, Zhang said.
He will also meet South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on December 2-3 and co-chair a two-day summit between China and African countries in Johannesburg after the meeting.
The summit in December will be the second such high-level forum following one held in Beijing in 2006, Zhang said.
“This African trip by President Xi Jinping will be the most important, comprehensive and valuable visit in recent years,” Zhang said.
Xi visited Africa in 2013 shortly after he took office as president. Mugabe reciprocated with a visit to China in 2014 in an attempt to seek loans and investments to lift Zimbabwe’s struggling economy.
Beijing’s focus on growing trade and aid in Africa leaves it open to charges by the West of turning a blind eye to conflicts and rights abuses in the continent.
Trade with resource-rich Africa has exploded in the last decade as China feeds its industrial machine amid African demand for cheap Chinese products.
The EU has rejected what they call China’s “cheque book” approach to doing business with Africa, saying it would continue to demand good governance and the transparent use of funds from its trading partners.
Chinese firms in Africa also face criticism for using imported labour to build government-financed projects like roads and hospitals, while pumping out raw resources and processing them in China, leaving little for local economies.
China’s friendship with Africa dates back to the 1950s, when Beijing backed liberation movements in the continent fighting to throw off Western colonial rule.