The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, a pariah to the West, has been warmly embraced by Chinese government officials during a visit to Beijing.

Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping praised Mugabe as an old friend of China and a famed leader of the national liberation movement in Africa.

China is willing to join hands with Zimbabwe, enhance friendly exchanges, and expand practical cooperation, Xi said after meeting with Mugabe.

Chinese media reported that the two men agreed to deepen cooperation on projects related to infrastructure, agriculture, mining and trade.

Xi, who is likely to succeed Hu Jintao as China's president in 2012, apparently is committed to increasing Beijing’s footprints on the African continent.

According to Reuters, trade between China and Zimbabwe totaled $717-million in the first nine months of this year, a 62 percent increase over the year-ago period.

Earlier this year, China agreed to provide a $700-million loan to Zimbabwe and urged Mugabe to protect Chinese firms from nationalization schemes.

Typically, China’s investments in African countries like Zimbabwe come with heavy conditions, for example, setting aside a number of jobs for Chinese nationals. Much to the relief of many African leaders, China doesn’t concern itself with human rights issues or environmental safety standards in Africa.

Reportedly, Zimbabwe waives certain restrictions on Chinese companies, which they impose on other foreign investors.

For example, with respect to foreign mining companies which covet Zimbabwe’s rich mineral deposits, Mugabe demands that such firms give up 51 percent of their equity shares to local black Zimbabweans. Chinese companies do not have to abide by such conditions.

Meanwhile, governments in Europe and the United States have condemned Mugabe for alleged acts of human rights abuses over his three decades in power in Zimbabwe. As a result, Zimbabwe has become more reliant on financial aid and investments from China.

However, to prevent the complete collapse of the Zimbabwe economy a few years ago, Mugabe reluctantly agreed to enter into a power-sharing government with opposition figures. As a result, some money from Western sources has started to flow back to Harare.