ON September 28, 1960, Cuba and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations. A few months later, during a visit to China by Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, the first bilateral agreements on economic and technological cooperation were signed.

China is now the second largest trading partner of the island. Photo: XINHUA Photo: XINHUA

This first contact made by Che in the land of Mao Zedong was of great significance to the young Cuban Revolution, not only because of the magnitude of the contracts, but more importantly because of the recently imposed U.S. economic, financial and commercial blockade.

Over the years, as relations between the two countries deepened, reflecting growing mutual trust, trade and economic cooperation expanded.

China is today Cuba’s second most important trade partner, and Chinese participation in several sectors critical to the country’s development has made the relationship strategic.

Since the 1980s, the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Commercial Relations has played a fundamental role in the promotion, execution and development of a variety of projects, as well as the expansion of investment.

Collaboration by specialists in a variety of areas has led to the search for new ways to conduct bilateral trade, and, along with regular high level governmental visits, has allowed the countries to continue developing mutual understanding.

For a short period of time, Cuba paid for Chinese products with sugar, but since 1999, given economic reforms and changes in trade policies in China, all transactions between the two countries are realized in hard currency, via credits and mutually agreed-upon payment mechanisms.

In this way, Cuba has been able to acquire, in the Chinese market, equipment which has been indispensable to the recovery of key sectors within the national economy, such as transportation, and to the development of telecommunications. Over the years, Cuban products including biotechnology, rum, tobacco, sugar, seafood and nickel have been successfully distributed in China.

Noteworthy, in the area of investment, is the joint enterprise Biotec Pharmaceutical, founded by China’s International Sciences Center and the Cuban Molecular Immunology Center, devoted to research, production and sales of monoclonal antibodies used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, as well as the development, registration and sales of vaccines and therapeutic recombinant proteins, using Cuban technology.

Another example of this type of relationship is the joint company Gran Kaimán, created by Cuba’s Electronics Group and the Grand Dragon telecommunications company in China, which produces equipment for the national markets and others in Latin America.

The joint enterprise Cuba-Shanghai has had positive experiences in the construction of luxury hotels for the Cubanacán chain and China’s Suntime International.

In July of 2014, during an official visit to Havana by Chinese President Xi Jinping, another 29 accords were signed to broaden economic and commercial relations between the two countries.

Among the agreements was one which establishes a Chinese line of credit for the construction of a multipurpose terminal within the port of Santiago de Cuba.

Also signed was a financing accord between Cuba’s National Bank and the Chinese Development Banking Corporation, which establishes China’s commitment to finance Cuban purchases of equipment for the development of the island’s telecommunications system.

No less significant were contracts signed ensuring Chinese participation in the drilling of oil wells at depths of up to 9,000 meters in Cuban territorial waters, as well as industrial and technological cooperation in the area of digital television.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by The Cuban Palmares Grupo and Beijing Enterprises agreed to constitute a joint enterprise named Bellomonte S.A., devoted to the construction and operation of facilities associated with a golf course in Havana.

During the Chinese President’s visit to Cuba, also inaugurated was a manufacturing plant to produce biosensors which measure the level of glucose in a patient’s blood. Marino Murillo Jorge, a Council of Ministers vice president, commented at that time, “The high level of political relations between Cuba and China, and the unwavering friendship between our peoples, allow us to continue fine-tuning a strategic alliance which has thus far produced important achievements, and has infinite potential.”

Murillo, also the head of the Permanent Commission on Policy Development and Implementation, put special emphasis on collaboration in the pharmaceuticals sector, to which Chinese companies have been important suppliers of raw materials, indispensable to Cuba’s growing industry.

More recently, during the seventh meeting of the Cuba-China Joint Biotechnology Work Group, held this past June in Havana, 11 more agreements were ratified, opening the way for new collaborative projects to be undertaken over the next two years, 2015-2017.

Letters of intention were also signed for the establishment of two joint enterprises in the Mariel Special Development Zone - one devoted to the production and distribution of biopharmaceuticals, and another focused on cancer medications.

Likewise agreed upon were two contracts to represent and distribute Cuban developed bio-similar antibodies and a pneumococcus vaccine.

It was agreed that Cuba’s Medical Services Enterprise will begin treating Chinese patients here, and undertake the expedited introduction of a rotavirus vaccine in China and throughout Latin America.

Cuba’s Neurosciences Center and the University of Science and Electronic Technology in China reached an agreement to establish a joint laboratory to develop five neuro-technological products.

These are but a few examples of the mutually beneficial collaborative relationship established. Much untapped potential remains to be explored within the context of the updating of Cuba’s economic model and the process of reform taking place in China.

The close ties of friendship and political confidence, constructed over a 50-year period, are no doubt reflected in the multiple joint commercial and cooperative projects underway, many of which have a strong social impact.