Xi: Cuba showing clear direction for future

China Daily, June 6, 2011

Vice-President Xi Jinping praised the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party for showing a clear direction for the country's future development.

In a written speech delivered to the press at the Jose Marti Airport in the Cuban capital Havana on Saturday night, Xi voiced his determination to expand consensus, enhance friendship, deepen cooperation and seek common development with the Caribbean island nation.

Xi praised Cuba's relationship with China, which dates back to 1960, when Cuba became the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic ties with China.

The cooperation between China and Latin American and Caribbean countries has been institutionalized step by step, and the high-level visit will further enhance the bilateral relationship, said He Shuangrong, a professor at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Cuba's social transition is confronted with various challenges, and China's support and experience might be helpful at this stage," she added.

Xi arrived in Havana from Milan, Italy, where he concluded a four-day visit. This trip, his second to Latin American in less than three years, will also take him to Uruguay and Chile, where China has become an increasingly important trade partner.

In his previous trip to the region in February 2009, he visited Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.

He was scheduled to meet Chinese diplomats, representatives of Chinese companies, overseas Chinese and Chinese students studying in Cuba. He was expected to pay tribute to the Jose Marti Memorial, which honors the national hero of Cuba.

Xi, who made the trip at the invitation of Cuba's First Vice-President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, was expected to meet Cuban President Raul Castro and attend a signing ceremony of bilateral cooperation agreements.

Cuba is China's biggest trade partner in the Caribbean region, while China is Cuba's second largest trade partner after Venezuela. Over the last decade, two-way trade increased from $440 million in 2001 to $1.83 billion in 2010.

During this period, Cuba's exports to China have grown from $110 million to $770 million. While China-made electric appliances are found in many Cuban homes, Cuban sugar and cigars are popular on the Chinese market.

Zhong Shan, vice-minister of commerce, told reporters last week that China and Cuba have great cooperation potential in tourism, biotechnology, telecommunications, agriculture, mining and energy as this year marks the beginning of China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and the approval of Cuba's economic and social policy guideline at the 6th Party Congress in Cuba.

Raul Castro has been pushing for economic reform since he succeeded his elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008.

The past few months have seen a boom in private businesses such as restaurants, barbershop and taxis. Foreign tourists can now stay in private hotels known as casas, provided by families with extra rooms. The price is usually cheaper than government-run hotels.

Just a block or two from the University of Havana, private restaurants and shoe vendors have emerged. Private taxis, painted in bright colors and renovated from the classic models of the 1930s and 1950s, cruise down Havana streets.

On the sidewalk of almost every major street, people are seen selling everything from roasted peanuts, flowers to fruits to handicrafts, reminding people of the late 1970s and early 1980s when China started to encourage its private businesses, which today are an important and vibrant part of its economy.

According to the Cuban government, more than 300,000 Cubans are now working legally for themselves, of whom 220,000 have received their licenses for self-employment since last fall.