Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a five-day trip to Africa this week with a stop in Zimbabwe Tuesday and expectations that he will sign deals to fund infrastructure projects.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (4th L) greet dignitaries as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (L) looks on in Harare, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) and his wife Peng Liyuan (4th L) greet dignitaries as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (L) looks on in Harare, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

It’s the first trip since 1996 that a Chinese leader has taken to the African nation run by President Robert Mugabe.

China’s Import and Export Bank is expected to loan the capital city of Harare more than $1 billion to fund the 600 megawatt expansion of Hwange coal power station, Reuters reported officials saying.

Zimbabwean Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said four agreements on electricity generation, including the expansion of Hwange would be signed during Xi’s two-day visit, as well as deals on road construction and infrastructure development, reported Reuters.

Last year, China’s Sinohydro Corp. made an ambitious move yet to tackle Zimbabwe’s crippling electricity shortages when it won the $1.5 billion bid to build two generation plants at Hwange in western Zimbabwe

“Financial closure has been reached and the agreement for Hwange 7 and 8 will be signed today,” Chinamasa told Reuters during a ceremony to welcome Xi at an airport in Harare.

Noah Gwariro, managing director of state-owned Zimbabwe Power Company, which owns Hwange, said engineering, procurement and construction of Hwange would cost $1.175 billion while interest, bank charges and Zimbabwe’s down payment for the project would cost $325 million.

Zimbabwe has increasingly relied on China to invest in new infrastructure like roads, power and water plants after the country became a pariah in the West for its alleged abuses of human rights and the electoral process.

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. London-based BMI Research said China’s investments in Africa amounted to $32.4 billion at the end of 2014.

Between 1999-2008, Zimbabwe suffered a recession in which it saw gross domestic product shrink by 45%. On Aug. 25 Mugabe said his country’s economy was poised for a major take-off with China’s help.

China has been one of Zimbabwe’s biggest supporters. In 2013, Beijing invested $601 million in Zimbabwe projects, more than any other African country, reported Xinhua, the government’s news service.  In recent years, Mugabe accepted $1.5 billion in Chinese loans and made the yuan currency legal tender in an effort to prop up his country’s weak economy.

On Wednesday, Xi’s travel plans take him to South Africa, where he will meet President Jacob Zuma and later co-chair the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit in Johannesburg

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