BEIJING: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro paid tribute to Mao Zedong at the late Chinese leader's mausoleum on Friday before overseeing energy and gold mining deals as he seeks Beijing's help to bolster 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 and heaping praise on Communist China's founder.
"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 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.
Maduro had wanted late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, his mentor, to be embalmed "like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao" after his death in 2013, but his body was placed instead in a marble tomb in former barracks atop a Caracas slum.
Maduro is visiting China, his country's main creditor, as his country sinks deeper into an economic crisis, with crude production falling and the IMF projecting an inflation rate of 1,000,000 per cent by the end of the year.
The Venezuelan leader railed against US and European Union sanctions on his government, saying they had seized billions of dollars and "blocked trade".
China has loaned some USD 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 USD 20 billion to Beijing.
Maduro and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi oversaw on Friday the signing of 28 deals which the Venezuelan leader 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 may also return home with a new USD 5 billion loan and a six-month extension to the grace period to service its debt, according to Venezuelan consultancy Ecoanalitica.
Maduro, who leaves China on Sunday, called China his country's "big sister", while Wang said the nations aimed to have ties as "strong as the Great Wall".
Maduro also met with Xi, 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 trip to China is Maduro's first outside the country since he was allegedly targeted by exploding drones at a military parade in Caracas on August 4.
Maduro said the deals with China would contribute to an economic recovery plan he introduced in August.
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.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled abroad, most of them into neighbouring Latin American countries.