Cuba’s leader to visit China as island battles struggling economy, energy woes

By Kawala Xie

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel will visit China this week as the final stop of an international tour that comes as the island country battles a struggling economy and energy shortages.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed Diaz-Canel will visit China between November 24 and 26 at the invitation of President Xi Jinping.

Diaz-Canel kicked off a four-nation tour on November 16. He is now in Russia, having wrapped up a visit to Algeria over the weekend, and will travel to Turkey before his final stop in China.

Cuba has battled a struggling economy since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Large-scale blackouts and extensive damage caused by Hurricane Ian, which hit the island in late September, have jeopardised livelihoods and supplies.

Diaz-Canel’s trip is widely seen as a mission to secure economic and energy support from long-time trade and energy partners. China is Cuba’s biggest trade partner and one of its major creditors.

The crisis-stricken Caribbean nation has benefited from write-offs or postponements of its debt payments. China forgave US$6 billion of Cuban debt as part of a major restructuring in 2011, and the Paris Club creditor nations agreed to defer Cuba’s 2021 foreign debt repayment until this year.

During Diaz-Canel’s first stop, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said his country would donate a solar power plant and resume supplying fuel to Cuba to help ease its energy shortages. He also agreed to forgive an unspecified amount of the interest on Cuba’s debt.

Xu Shicheng, a researcher at the Institute of Latin American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Diaz-Canel is likely to make similar debt demands during his China visit.
“China will provide Cuba a considerable amount of cash, necessary loans and supplies,” he said. “We will try our best to help Cuba.”
Xu said the high-level delegation accompanying Diaz-Canel, which includes his finance, trade, and foreign ministers, suggested the two countries would probably strengthen their diplomatic and economic cooperation. Xu added that Cuba is interested in “all goods from China’’, from agricultural and food products to electrical appliances and means of transport.
China and Cuba established diplomatic relations in 1960, and Chinese leaders often call the Latin American country a “good brother, good comrade and good friend”. Cuba frequently supports China’s stance on issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

In 2021, total trade volume between the two countries reached US$1.02 billion. China’s exports to Cuba stood at US$576 million, greater than the import volume of US$446 million, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

Diaz-Canel will be the first Latin American leader to visit China after the 20th party congress. Xi has hosted leaders from Asia, Europe, and Africa in Beijing since the congress ended last month.

Xi also held a flurry of diplomatic talks with global leaders during the Group of 20 summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last week, including a meeting with US President Joe Biden.

Wang Huiyao, founder of the Centre for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, said Diaz-Canel’s visit would be another significant and necessary step for China to continue its international exchanges.

“China is open to face-to-face diplomacy now,” he said, adding that no Latin American leader has made an official visit to China since the beginning of the pandemic. 

From the South China Morning Post.