President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who visited China six times, was remembered in Beijing on Wednesday as "strong and vibrant" and a "good friend" of the Chinese people.
China pledged to continue deepening the China-Venezuela relationship, which both countries treasure.
"President Chavez was an outstanding leader of Venezuela and a good friend of the Chinese people. He has made significant contributions to advancing the friendly and cooperative relations between China and Venezuela," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday at a news conference.
President Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, China's top political leader, each sent messages of condolence to Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's acting president, Hua said.
Both Hu and Xi met Chavez several times over the years when there were frequent high-level meetings between the two countries.
Chavez's six visits to China since 1999 achieved fruitful cooperation agreements between the two countries' governments and enterprises.
The Communist Party of China, the Chinese government and its people highly treasure the time-honored friendship between the two countries, Hua said. China is ready to work with Venezuela to continuously deepen the strategic partnership based on common development so as to bring benefits to their people, she said.
'Strong and vibrant'
In the eyes of many Chinese people, Chavez was a "strong and vibrant" leader from Latin America.
Liu Jianwei, a former employee of the China National Construction & Agricultural Machinery Import & Export Corp, met Chavez twice between 1999 and 2001 when he was a representative of the company in Venezuela.
The company was selling agricultural machinery to Venezuela as part of a $30 million loan project between the two countries, he recalled.
Chavez greeted Liu and his colleagues and with great passion when he visited a product promotion campaign and later at a ceremony held by the company, Liu remembered.
"He had the enthusiasm and vigor that you can see particularly in South Americans. He was good at making speeches and had really close connections with ordinary people," Liu said. What Liu appreciates most is Chavez's promotion of the two countries' economic and trade relations.
"When we ran into problems in loans and products, they could be well resolved with the support of local governments," Liu said.
"When the relationship between two countries is good, both their companies can benefit. The Sino-Venezuelan relationship during Chavez's time was a good example," Liu said.
Chavez was also friendly to Chinese media, said China Daily reporter Qin Jize, who attended a group interview with Chavez in 2006 at Venezuela's embassy in Beijing during his fourth visit to China.
"He shook hands with every reporter and showed us a chart when describing his country," Qin said.
In 2001, the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing awarded Chavez an honorary doctorate in economics, when he was on his second visit to China.
Chavez was familiar with Chinese history and said he was a follower of Chairman Mao Zedong.
Li Jinzhang, China's ambassador to Brazil and former head of the department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs in the Foreign Ministry between 1998 and 2001, said Chavez was fond of talking about Chinese history and citing famous Chinese sayings when meeting Chinese leaders.
He once quoted Mao's famous saying, "All reactionaries are paper tigers", Li said.
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