Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has begun a visit to China by paying his respects to Mao Zedong, before signing a raft of deals aimed at bolstering his country’s crisis-hit economy.
Calling the founder of Communist China a “giant of the homeland of humanity”, Maduro bowed three times in front of a wreath at the massive mausoleum in the capital, Beijing, where Mao’s body lies.
“We are beginning this state visit in the best way because we have come to pay tribute to the great helmsman Mao Zedong,” Maduro said on Friday.
“I was very moved because it really reminds of one of the great founders of a multipolar 21st century,” Maduro added.
Foreign leaders typically shy away from visiting the mausoleum of Mao, who is seen as responsible for the death of millions of Chinese during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution between 1949 and 1976.
Former Cuban President Raul Castro was the last major international leader to visit the site facing Tiananmen Square in 2005, 10 years after his brother and former leader, Fidel, did in 1995.
Later on Friday, Maduro and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi oversaw the signing of 28 deals which the Venezuelan president said were worth billions of dollars.
The memorandums of understanding include stepping up cooperation in the joint exploration of gas in Venezuela, a “strategic alliance” in gold mining and the supply of pharmaceutical products
Maduro, who leaves China on Sunday, called the country Venezuela’s “big sister”, while Wang said the two nations aimed to have ties as “strong as the Great Wall”.
China is Venezuela’s main creditor and has already loaned it $50bn in the past decade. Venezuelan consultancy Ecoanalitica said Maduro may return home with another $5bn loan.
Maduro also met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, who told him that China supports the Venezuelan government’s “efforts to seek a stable national development,” according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
China “is willing to strengthen exchanges of experience in governing the country and politics with Venezuela”, Xi said.
The global decline in the price of crude oil, coupled with the International Monetary Fund projecting a massive 1,000,000 percent inflation rate by the end of 2018, has sunk Venezuela into a deep financial crisis.
Venezuela’s government has massively devalued the national currency as part of a series of measures intended to halt the economy’s free-fall into hyperinflation.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country, most of them into other Latin American states, due to reported shortages as a result of economic difficulties.