Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping and Cuban President Raul Castro smile during a meeting at the Revolution Palace in Havana on Sunday. Alejandro Ernesto / Pool / Reuters
Agreements come as nation starts reforms
HAVANA / BEIJING - China and Cuba strengthened their economic and political ties on Sunday by signing a dozen cooperation agreements that will provide strong financial support to the Latin American country as it embarks on economic reforms.
The signing of the 13 agreements, including a memorandum of understanding for bilateral economic relations over the next five years, was presided over by visiting Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping and Cuban President Raul Castro.
Under the agreements, China will provide interest-free loans, economic aid and equipment to repair irrigation projects.
The agreements also cover cooperation in digital television and telecommunications, banking supervision and financing for public health projects, as well as an oil refinery expansion project and a liquefied natural gas project.
The agreements "reflect the political will of both parties and governments to continue deepening their ties", Agence France-presse cited an official Cuban announcement as saying.
Experts said the agreements would inject more momentum into Cuba's economic reforms and enhance ties between China, Cuba and other Latin American countries.
"The agreements will be a new start for China-Cuba economic cooperation and expand China's investment in Cuba from traditional areas like energy resources to new areas such as tourism, infrastructure and finance," said Sun Hongbo, a researcher at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Sun told China Daily it is also a good opportunity for China to increase its investment in other Latin American nations, as some, such as Brazil and Uruguay, are in great need of capital to develop transportation infrastructure.
According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry press release, during his meeting with Castro, Xi said: "China-Cuba relations have stood the test of the vast changes in the international situation." He added that the relationship serves as an excellent example of China's cooperation with developing countries.
Xi said both sides should maintain high-level exchanges, deepen mutual political trust and enhance people-to-people exchanges in a bid to further advance bilateral cooperation.
"The Chinese government supports competent Chinese enterprises in seeking new opportunities for cooperation and investment in Cuba," he added.
On cooperation in the world arena, Xi said China is ready to maintain close communication with Cuba, and strengthen coordination and cooperation on major issues such as the reform of the United Nations and its Security Council and climate change.
Castro said Xi's visit would give a strong impetus to the development of bilateral ties, according to the press release.
He also said Cuba is willing to enhance exchanges with China and share its experience in governance and party building.
Xi arrived in Havana from Milan, Italy, where he concluded a four-day visit. This trip, his second to Latin America in less than three years, will also take him to Uruguay and Chile, where China has become an increasingly important trade partner.
Xi was also the first Chinese leader to visit Cuba since the country's leadership approved a package of more than 300 reforms in April aimed at making its economy more efficient.
On Monday, Xi visited a local clinic in Havana and listened to government and clinic officials who introduced to him Cuba's healthcare system. He was also expected to inspect an oil-drilling project conducted by China National Petroleum Corp.
Cuba is China's biggest trade partner in the Caribbean region, while China is Cuba's second-largest trade partner after Venezuela. Over the past decade, bilateral trade increased from $440 million in 2001 to $1.83 billion in 2010.
AFP contributed to this story.
(China Daily 06/07/2011 page11)