Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hailed Mao Zedong as a “giant of the homeland of humanity” on Friday during a rare visit by a foreign leader to the mausoleum where the embalmed body of Communist China’s founder lies.

In Beijing to seek a financial boost for his crisis-hit country’s economy, Maduro kicked off his visit by bowing three times in front of a wreath at the massive mausoleum facing Tiananmen Square.

Nicolas Maduro. File photo: ABR/Fabio Rodrigues-Pozzebom.

“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 in comments broadcast by Venezuela’s official VTV network.

“I was very moved because it really reminds of one of the great founders of a multipolar 21st century,” he said, praising Mao as “this giant of the homeland of humanity” and a “giant of revolutionary ideas”.

Maduro also praised President Xi Jinping, whom he was due to meet later Friday, for the Chinese leader’s vision of a “common destiny for humanity”.

The Venezuelan leader, who frequently rails against the US “empire”, said it was a destiny of peace “without a hegemonic empire that blackmails, that dominates, that attacks the people of the world”.

Foreign leaders are seldom seen paying public visits to the mausoleum holding the remains of Mao, whose chaotic rule from 1949 to his death in 1976 left tens of millions of people dead through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Former Cuban president Raul Castro is the last top political figure to have visited the site in 2005, before he succeeded his late brother, Fidel, who himself had visited Mao’s tomb in 1995, according to a search of Chinese media reports.

‘Big sister’ 

Maduro is visiting China, his country’s main creditor, as his country sinks deeper into an economic crisis.

The leftist leader said his visit would give a “big push” to energy investments, trade and the “successful financial relationship” between the two countries.

China has loaned some $50 billion to OPEC member Venezuela in the past decade, with Caracas repaying debt with oil shipments. The socialist-led Latin American country still owes $20 billion to Beijing.

Maduro may return home with a new $5 billion loan and a six-month extension to the grace period to service its debt, according to Venezuelan consultancy Ecoanalitica.

“China is our big sister,” said Maduro after landing overnight. He will be in China until Sunday.

“Recently, the Venezuelan government has actively promoted economic and financial reform with a good social response,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press conference on Thursday.

“I think a stable Venezuelan development is in the interest of all parties,” Geng said.

The trip to China is Maduro’s first outside the country since he was allegedly targeted by exploding drones at a military parade in Caracas August 4.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez visited Beijing before Maduro’s arrival and met with Chinese officials from the China Development Bank and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC).

Maduro’s government has massively devalued the national currency as part of a raft of measures intended to halt the economy’s free-fall into hyperinflation.

The International Monetary Fund projects Venezuela’s inflation rate will reach 1,000,000 percent by the end of the year.

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country, most of them into neighbouring Latin American countries.

Venezuela’s crude oil production fell in August to its lowest level in three decades, excluding a strike in the sector between December 2002 and February 2003, according to OPEC figures.

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