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Cuba's top leader will begin a state visit to China on Wednesday to further boost both bilateral ties and his country's ongoing reforms.
Raul Castro, president of Cuba's Council of State and Council of Ministers, is scheduled to visit China for four days at the invitation of President Hu Jintao, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news conference on Monday.
Liu said China attaches great importance to this visit, during which both sides will sign cooperation deals.
Castro will attend a series of state activities with Hu, and also meet other Chinese officials to exchange views on bilateral ties and affairs of common concern.
"China believes this visit will deepen relations between the two countries," Liu said.
The deals expected to be signed during Castro's visit will help to accelerate Cuba's economic reforms, experts said.
During his last two visits to China in 1997 and 2005, Raul Castro commended and studied China's economic reforms. In April 2011, the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party approved the nation's "market friendly" plan of economic reforms.
Cuba's reforms, which are at the key transitional period, have received positive responses from the international community, but still need more support, analysts said.
The reforms have revitalized the country's economy by loosening the government's grip on property ownership and allowing small private businesses, said Yang Jianmin, a Cuban studies expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Reforms need investment. Since Cuba faces difficulty in drawing investment from the West, closer China-Cuba economic ties constitute strong support for its reforms and development," he said.
According to official statistics, bilateral trade rose from $590 million in 2004 to $1.8 billion in 2010. China became Cuba's second-largest trading partner, exceeded only by Venezuela.
But the trade is dominated by China's exports to Cuba. According to China's Ministry of Commerce, China mainly imports sugar and nickel, while it exports electronic equipment to Cuba.
If Cuba, with stable and credible governance, welcomes investments, both countries have great potential to cooperate in the fields of agriculture, energy and tourism, said Niu Haibin, a Latin American studies researcher with the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
China's investment in Cuba, the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic ties with China, will also help to strengthen relations with other Latin American countries. Most Latin American countries have called for solidarity and widely oppose US sanctions against Cuba, Niu said.
After Cuba's revolution in 1959, leader Fidel Castro, brother of Raul Castro, overthrew the US-backed regime and Washington placed a trade embargo on Cuba. The Caribbean country was also kicked out of the Organization of American States and has been kept out of its summits.
Cuba's exclusion and sanction not only undermine Cuba's development but also harm the other countries trade with the Caribbean island nation, Yang said.
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