Zimbabwe is an important ally to China and Beijing will seek to further strengthen ties, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said of a country isolated by the West under President Robert Mugabe's rule.

Mugabe has been shunned by Western countries for decades over suspected human rights abuses and vote fraud. He has looked to China to shore up a shattered economy by showcasing rich mineral resources and the world's second biggest platinum reserves, which China covets to fuel its booming economy.

Let me be frank. We believe there should be a lifting of sanctions, Yang said after meeting Mugabe.

The United States and European Union have been at loggerheads with China over its support for Mugabe, which Western states see as helping prop up a leader who has mismanaged the economy and abused his people.

Yang said China wanted to enhance ties in sectors including infrastructure, mining and agriculture, with Mugabe telling reporters he wanted cooperation to intensify.

The relationship is in very good shape, Yang said.

A government minister told Reuters last month the state-run China Development Bank could fund up to $10 billion in Chinese investment in Zimbabwe's mining and agriculture sector.

Such an investment would dwarf Zimbabwe's gross domestic product, which is expected to be about $6 billion this year.

But analysts say the announcement could be aimed at trying to prod wary Western investors into sinking more money into Zimbabwe out of fear they will lose ground to China.

A private weekly reported last week that Beijing had offered Zimbabwe $3 billion for vast platinum reserves but said the deal was likely to be rejected by the government over its terms.

Yang will also meet Mugabe's governing partner and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in a visit that concludes on Friday. Yang then departs for other African states.

He arrives at a time when political tension is rising in the troubled country after a spate of violence led to mutual accusations of blame between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

Mugabe and his inner circle have been subject to Western sanctions since his ZANU-PF party won re-election in 2000 after a violent campaign and began seizures of white-owned farms.

China, which has ties with ZANU-PF from the 1970s, has been increasing its investments, which however lag behind what Beijing invests in neighboring Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.

China's exports to Zimbabwe amounted to $159 million in 2010 while the southern African country exported $57 million worth of goods, according to official figures.