Chinese President Xi Jinping heads Friday to Latin America and the Caribbean, as he looks to keep on building links with the kind of emerging economies Beijing has cultivated in its rise to global influence.
Xi's visit to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico follows his first foreign trip to Russia and three countries in Africa -- Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo -- shortly after taking office in March.
Beijing has embarked on a diplomatic drive since completing its once-in-a-decade power handover, with Xi's number two Premier Li Keqiang also visiting India, Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany.
After Mexico, Xi travels to the United States for his first summit with President Barack Obama on June 7-8 in California.
China has in recent years aggressively pushed trade and investment ties with the developing world, particularly Africa and Latin America, to secure raw materials to fuel its economic growth and wield greater geopolitical influence in relation to the United States.
The trip "will be of great significance for deepening China's relations with these three countries and promoting overall cooperation between China, Latin America and the Caribbean", assistant foreign minister Zhang Kunsheng told reporters.
The visit to Mexico, Latin America's second-largest economy after Brazil and a party to the gigantic North American Free Trade Agreement, is the first by a Chinese president since 2005.
It comes after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto met Xi in China last month when agreements were signed, including a technology exchange between Mexico's state-run oil giant Pemex and the China National Petroleum Corporation.
Mexico is "an important emerging market and one of China's most important Latin American partners for cooperation", Zhang said.
He added that China is Mexico's second-largest trading partner, while Mexico is China's second-largest in Latin America. Two-way trade hit $36.7 billion in 2012, he said, a 10 percent increase from the year before.
China and Mexico are both members of the Group of 20 leading economies.
Costa Rica is the first, and so far only, country in Central America to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, which it did in 2007.
The two countries concluded a free trade agreement in 2010 and business has since boomed, with two-way trade up 30.5 percent in 2012 to $6.2 billion.
"Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in June 2007 our countries have enjoyed fast growth in bilateral relations," Zhang said.
Trade between China and Trinidad and Tobago, however, remains small and is declining, totalling $450 million in 2012 according to Chinese government statistics, down from $627 million the year before.
Xi's visit is the first there by a Chinese president, as well as to the English-speaking Caribbean region, according to Zhang. It comes days after a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.
The island nation has large reserves of oil and gas and one of the highest levels of GDP per capita in the western hemisphere, the International Monetary Fund said in March.
As part of China's outreach to other countries, Xi will use the stop to meet representatives of several more nations, including Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Jamaica, Zhang said.