China Power

China, Cuba Seek Economic and Defense Cooperation

Recent Features

China Power

China, Cuba Seek Economic and Defense Cooperation

Two high-ranking Chinese officials made separate visits to Cuba this month.

After attending the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, D.C., Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang arrived at his second stop – Cuba. This September marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beijing and Havana, and China wants to make sure the occasion doesn’t pass unnoticed.

While the two countries have had diplomatic ties since 1960, by China’s own admission “there were little substantive contacts between China and Cuba during the period of Cold War.” China and Cuba began increasing their interactions, particularly high-level visits, in the 1990s. Then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin went to Cuba in 1993 and 2001; his successor, Hu Jintao, visited in 2004. Fidel Castro, who served as Cuba’s president from 1976-2008 (and as prime minister from 1959-1976) visited China in 1995 and 2003. His brother Raul, who succeeded Fidel as president, made his own trip to China in 2012. Current Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Cuba in July 2014, part of a broader tour of Latin America.

During his time in Havana, Wang emphasized the agreement made by Xi and Castro to “enhance bilateral practical cooperation.” Wang called for increased cooperation “in infrastructure construction, bio-tech, agriculture and renewable energy,” according to Xinhua.

He and Ricardo Cabrisas, the vice president of the Council of Ministers, also signed a new economic and technical cooperation agreement. Cuban deputy minister of foreign trade and investment told Xinhua that the agreement “reaffirms China as one of Cuba’s strategic partners in fulfilling the 2016-2020 national development programs.”

China and Cuba’s overall bilateral trade was worth $1.3 billion in 2014, with over $1 billion of that made up of Chinese exports to Cuba (mainly mechanical consumer goods, such as refrigerators, buses, and pick-up trucks, according to China’s Foreign Ministry).

China and Cuba have also been making strides on the military front. General Fan Changlong, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (and China’s highest-ranking military official) also stopped by Cuba in June. Like Wang, he made the trip after attending meetings in the United States. Fan met with Raul Castro, who told him that “China is Cuba’s firm and reliable friend.” Fan also met with Fidel Castro and General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, Cuba’s defense minister.The two sides promised to increase their military cooperation.

Cuba also looks to China to help keep up its military equipment, which largely consists on remaining Soviet-era technology. In May, Colombian authorities accused a Chinese vessel of carrying illegal arms to Cuba; China’s Foreign Ministry called the arms shipment “completely normal military trade cooperation.”

During Fan’s visit, he laid a wreath at a monument remembering a general who died during Cuba’s War of Independence. While Cuba fought Spain in that war, the United States was the symbolic target of Fan’s gesture, as Deputy Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera made clear in comments to Fan after the wreath-laying. The fallen hero, General Antonio Maceo, once said “that if the Americans try to conquer us [Cuba], he would join his sword with the Spanish against them,” Lopez told Fan. Fan was also taken to visit Guantanamo, where he could see the remaining American presence on the island.

Although there were few details available on what, specifically, Fan discussed with his Cuban counterparts, he was expected to touch on how the decision to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations might affect China-Cuba ties.