Ties that bind and build

By Earl Bousquet
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 22, 2017
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It's been 57 years since Cuba and China established diplomatic relations – and what a road they have traveled since 1960.

Their sizes differ greatly and distance and culture could not have been further or more different. But while these differences have kept them apart over centuries, the bonds of friendship developed over the last five decades have been deep, long and wide.

Cuba was the first Latin American and Caribbean nation to recognize China – only 11 years after the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 and just one year after Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Today, the ties that bind them stand out as a distinctive model worth both study and emulation by all others everywhere interested in development of mutually beneficial ties between countries and peoples.

The last two decades have seen the small Caribbean island and the giant Asian nation walk hand-in-hand along the road of peace and progress at multiple levels.

At similar stages of development and with no geopolitical conflicts or historical disputes, they have therefore been able to more easily develop friendship and collaboration. Indeed today, more Chinese are learning Spanish and Portuguese, while more Cubans are learning Chinese – and with reason.

China's assistance to Cuba has grown over the years – and at the same pace that Beijing has been developing ties with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Important achievements in China-Cuba ties today have been achieved thus far in trade and finance, renewable energy and biotechnology.

Chinese companies are also investing in business in Cuba. A Chinese company, Yutong, has established a bus assembly plant on the island, producing the state-owned buses that transport thousands of Cubans from point to point, day and night.

Chinese companies are also being encouraged and invited by both sides to invest in and do business with Cuba, especially in the new Special Development Zone of Mariel (ZEDM). These include companies linked to biopharmaceuticals and renewable energy, as well as others interested in participating in national Cuban projects.

China is also interested in Cuba's internationally-acknowledged significant achievements in healthcare.

China-Cuba ties do continue to strengthen each year – just as fast as China's relations have been developing with the rest of the Latin American and the Caribbean region, especially with recently-announced new policies based and focused on economics, trade, culture, international affairs and mutual cooperation.

China's new joint-development model focuses on "logistics, energy and informatics" to promote "beneficial interaction between companies, society and governments" and "expansion of financing channels, such as loans and insurance."

But all this is not by accident. China is in fact the number one (or number two) trading partner with most Latin American and Caribbean states, as economic exchanges, in particular, have grown by leaps and bounds in recent times.

For example, in 2000, bilateral trade between China and Latin America and the Caribbean was only $10 billion, but by 2016 it grew to a whopping $216 billion. Besides, this region is the second most important destination for Chinese exports (after Asia), with total Chinese investments now standing at $150 billion – 100 times greater than in 2011.

New Chinese investments in the region include automobile and machine production industries, cell phones, air conditioners, buses, electronics, battery and solar panel manufacturing factories and plants.

Other projects also include the construction of a power plant in Ecuador, investments in nuclear energy in Argentina, railway and subway construction in various countries, increased investments in agriculture and cooperation projects involving China's telecoms giant Huawei.

Also on the radar is expansion into areas linked to innovation and science, with China very willing to export state-of-the-art technologies to the region and to engage environmentally conscious companies to not only help create new sources of employment, but also to continue boosting industrialization.

But this is by no means a one-way business track. Latin American and Caribbean countries are also seeking to hook-up opportunities to participate in China's Silk Road initiative: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela have joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), while Argentina and Peru are about to do likewise. This will indeed open the way for these countries to pursue and participate in related projects involving Asian, European and African states and companies.

Also to be counted is the success of the China-CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) forum, a cooperation platform established in 2015 that also includes a fund to which China has already pledged $35 billion, $10 billion of which is destined for specific investment projects.

Unlike the USA, which conducts Latin American and Caribbean – and indeed general foreign policy – according to the whims and fancies of whoever is President, China's ties with the region have been guided by set policies that are revisited as time goes by, not to weaken but to strengthen ties at business, state and people's levels, including all actors in any society willing to engage with mutual respect and to bilateral advantage.

Indeed, while Cuba didn't gain any particular advantage when Havana recognized Beijing more than five decades ago, that certainly set the stage for the strong and lasting bonds of business and friendship that have developed with the wider Latin American and Caribbean region since then.

Earl Bousquet is a contributor to china.org.cn, editor-at-large of The Diplomatic Courier and author of an online regional newspaper column entitled Chronicles of a Chronic Caribbean Chronicler.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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