PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - Welcomed by a military band and a guard of honor, Chinese President Xi Jinping began a state visit to South Africa on Wednesday, part of China's effort to strengthen economic ties with Africa.

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) Welcomed by a military band and a guard of honor, Chinese President Xi Jinping began a state visit to South Africa on Wednesday, part of China's effort to strengthen economic ties with Africa.

China became Africa's largest international trading partner in 2009, according to the South African Institute of International Affairs. Trade was valued at over $201 billion last year, a sharp rise from just $10.6 billion in 2000.

Xi met his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma in an official ceremony in the capital Pretoria. After the red carpet procession, each president was flanked by row of cabinet ministers, who will be part of the talks on issues such as financial cooperation and infrastructure projects. The visit comes ahead of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, a meeting that brings together African and Chinese leaders every three years.

Xi's visit to South Africa comes a day after meeting Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in Harare, where the two countries inked deals worth more than $4 billion, according to Zimbabwean newspapers. In addition to China's mining interests in cash-strapped Zimbabwe, the 12 agreements cover industries such as power and transport, and prevent double taxation for investors, according to the Herald, a state-owned Zimbabwean newspaper.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is travelling to South Africa this week, where he will also meet Xi, his office said in a statement. The two leaders are to discuss a coastal railway project in Nigeria, which Buhari's government hopes will be financed by a $12 billion Chinese loan, the statement said.

While Beijing has traditionally maintained a policy of non-interference, staying out of Africa's political affairs, its decision to establish a permanent representative at the African Union's headquarters in Ethiopia may signal stronger political interaction, the South African Institute of International Affairs said.