President Mugabe was greeted with a 21-gun salute outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing before being ushered in to meet Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
Their meeting featured on China’s main 7pm news bulletin, which showed Mr Xi calling Mr Mugabe a “renowned leader of the African national liberation movement” and “an old friend of the Chinese people whom we respect very much”.
Mr Xi said: “The traditional friendship between China and Zimbabwe was forged in the glorious years when we stood shoulder to shoulder against imperialism, colonialism and hegemony.”
“The Chinese people value friendship and we will never forget those good friends and good brothers who have shown mutual understanding and support vis-a-vis China and who have come through thick and thin with us,” he added.
Mr Mugabe, meanwhile, said to Mr Xi that he felt “very much at home”. The Zimbabwean president is seeking a US$4 billion rescue package, according to the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, which cited unnamed sources.
Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s Finance minister, has already visited Beijing twice this year but did not return with new loans.
After growing by an average of ten per cent between 2009 and 2012, Zimbabwe’s slowing economy is forecast to grow by 3.1 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
At the end of last year, Mr Mugabe’s Zanu PF party unveiled a five year economic blueprint to create more than two million new jobs. However, the plan requires some £16 billion of new investment.
Ahead of his trip, Mr Mugabe told Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, that he would talk to Mr Xi about “producing necessary wealth for our people” through a “peaceful and economic struggle that we shall wage with our natural resources”.
His spokesman said there would be discussions over infrastructure investment. “The focus is on energy, coal and thermal, and hard communication by way of road networks, rail and locomotives,” he said.
He added that Zimbabwe was also looking for Chinese cooperation to modernise its farms and boost its telecommunications and broadcast sectors.
Martyn Davies, the chief executive of Frontier Advisory, a South African research house, told Bloomberg that Mr Mugabe was seeking “a last financial lifeline for his regime” but that he would be “naive to assume that Chinese capital is as easy to get as it has been in previous years”.
Nevertheless, Mr Mugabe’s political value to China was boosted by his election as head of the 15-country Southern African Development Community (SADC). He is also in line to lead the 54-nation African Union from next year.
China invested over £360 million in Zimbabwe in 2013 and has granted over £600 million in loans. “China is ready to work hand-in-hand with Zimbabwe to life our bilateral relations to a new high,” wrote Lin Lin, the Chinese ambassador in an editorial last week.
“Both nations are promoting the establishment of a new international political and economic order that is more fair and reasonable,” he added.