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By Staff Reporter

CHINA'S relations with Zimbabwe are "unshakeable", President Hu Jintao said Monday as he met his Zimbabwean counterpart amid accusations that Beijing's ties help shore up a pariah regime.

"Developing friendly relations between China and Zimbabwe is an unshakeable policy," Chinese state television quoted Hu as saying as he received Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in Beijing.

Hu said he wanted to develop "agriculture, telecommunications and infrastructure" ties with Zimbabwe.

China has faced criticism for not toeing the world diplomatic line in isolating Mugabe's regime, which is accused by opponents and rights groups of using torture and arbitrary arrest to quell dissent.

Mugabe has cultivated relations with Asian countries as part of a so-called "look east" policy since many western countries imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe four years ago, accusing the president of human rights violations.

"The Zimbabwean government pays a great deal of attention to relations between the two countries," Mugabe told the Chinese president.

The meeting was just one of several one-on-one encounters planned Monday between top Chinese leaders and the leaders of African countries who attended a two-day China-Africa summit in Beijing that concluded on Sunday.

The summit was seen as strengthening China's ties with Africa and resulted in $1,9-billion in trade deals, plus Chinese promises of aid, debt relief, and increased bilateral trade in the years ahead.

But fast-growing China, which is keen to gain access to African energy resources, has been criticized for engaging some tainted African nations without pushing for improvements in human rights and governance.

A report issued ahead of the summit by Human Rights Watch urged China to uses its diplomatic leverage to encourage positive change in countries such as Zimbabwe.

"Despite Beijing's growing concerns about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's repressive tactics - most noticeably his willingness to literally starve his opposition and destroy the Zimbabwean economy - China has continued to sell the Zimbabwean government technology that enables it to monitor electronic communications," the report said.

Hu met on Friday with President Omar al-Beshir of Sudan, another regime under intense international criticism for widespread killings, rapes and abductions by government-armed forces in the country's western Darfur region.

China has rejected pressure from other countries over its own human rights record as outside interference and refused to apply similar pressure on its African allies. - Sapa-AFP

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