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Cuba's Castro set to meet China's leaders

06 july 2012, 11:20
0
Cuban President Raul Castro (C) disembarks his aircraft upon arrival at Beijing's international airport. ©AFP
Cuban President Raul Castro (C) disembarks his aircraft upon arrival at Beijing's international airport. ©AFP
Cuban President Raul Castro begins talks with China's leaders on Thursday during which he is expected to win backing from his country's longtime ally in helping to implement historic economic reforms, AFP reports.

Castro will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, after which the two sides are scheduled to sign a series of agreements that analysts said may focus on trade and infrastructure.

He is then slated to meet China's two leaders-in-waiting, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, on Friday, helping to deepen personal ties with the men widely expected to assume the Chinese presidency and premiership.

"Cuba and China have been working together for years," said Xu Shicheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and expert on Latin America.

"With this visit they will be able to further strengthen their relations and promote cooperation in areas such as... construction of highways and railways, developing maritime ports and prospecting for oil, as well as in agriculture."

Castro's four-day visit to China, which began in low-key fashion Wednesday with no official meetings, follows a trip to Havana last year by Xi when the two sides signed 10 deals aimed at supporting Cuba's economic reforms.

The agreements included a new line of credit and financial aid to help modernise the Cuban public health system, official media in Havana reported at the time, although no figures were announced.

The countries' close relationship dates back to 1960, when Cuba became the first government to establish diplomatic ties with communist China.

Ties grew even closer after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, which precipitated Cuba's downward economic spiral from which the country is still trying to recover.

China has since supported Cuba through the painful process of reforming its outmoded economy, which until recently had been virtually unchanged for half a century.

Cuba is seeking to overhaul of its closed economy toward a system that incorporates elements of capitalism -- a process China has implemented over recent decades with stunning success.

China is Cuba's top trading partner after Venezuela, with bilateral trade worth $1.8 billion a year. China is also a vital source of credit for the cash-strapped communist island.

Castro is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Ricardo Cabrisas, vice chairman of Cuba's council of ministers, the official Granma newspaper in Havana reported this week.

The Cuban delegation is then expected to travel to Vietnam, another communist ally that has like China embarked on a successful economic transformation by incorporating capitalist elements.

Vietnam is also an important economic partner for Cuba, particularly in the agricultural sector.

The Southeast Asian nation is Cuba's main supplier of rice, a staple food item on the island. Bilateral trade totaled $269 million in 2010, according to official statistics.

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