BEIJING (AFP) – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces trial on charges of crimes against humanity, was welcomed to China on Monday with a 21-gun salute and a meeting with President Xi Jinping.
Kenyatta, who took office in March after a contested election, met Xi following an elaborate ceremony outside Beijing's ornate Great Hall of the People.
The Kenyan leader has been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with crimes against humanity over violence following elections in 2007, which claimed some 1,100 lives and displaced around 600,000 people.
The post-poll riots quickly turned into ethnic killings and reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of unrest since independence from Britain in 1963.
Kenyatta faces five counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and forcible transfer for his alleged role in the unrest, and his trial is set to begin November 12, when he would become the first-ever serving head of state to face the ICC's judges.
China's influence in Africa -- where critics say it ignores human rights issues -- has risen along with its global clout as the continent has become a key supplier of natural resources, helping fuel the Asian giant's rise to become the world's number two economy.
Xi, who made the continent part of his first foreign trip after taking office as head of state earlier this year, congratulated Kenyatta on his election victory.
"I believe, given your vigour and vitality, you should be able to lead the Kenyan people in registering even greater accomplishments on the road ahead towards your national development," Xi said.
Kenyatta -- the son of Jomo Kenyatta, his country's founding leader -- noted that Kenya was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence this year.
"During that eventful period, China and her people supported us in our quest for freedom, as it did many other liberation movements in Africa," he said.
Xi lauded China's historical ties with Kenya, specifically mentioning the 15th century voyages of Chinese Muslim admiral Zheng He, who led expeditions to the east African coast.
"And on your side, the Malindi region, also sent envoys to China, even sending giraffes as gifts," Xi said. "All these are much told stories in the annals of our friendship and exchanges."
In an interview with China's official Xinhua news agency published Saturday, Kenyatta expressed hopes that the visit will promote infrastructure, manufacturing, technology and tourism development in Kenya.
Citing numbers provided by China's embassy in Nairobi, Xinhua said China is the East African nation's second-largest trade partner, with bilateral trade at $2.84 billion.