BEIJING.— In 1960, Cuba became the first state in Latin America and the Caribbean to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China founded 11 years before in 1949. This simple act, which didn’t by any means give Cuba an advantage over other countries, did however nurture the special ties which today exist between the two nations.
“Our two governments, parties and peoples are united by a deep love and solid base which will allow cooperation ties to grow and develop,” stated Director General of the department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs at China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhu Qingqiao, speaking with Granma.
In an exclusive interview with journalists from the China-Latin America and the Caribbean Press Exchange Center, Zhu noted that the relations between Havana and Beijing are at all-time high.
In this regard, he mentioned the frequent high-level visits between officials from the two countries, as well as important achievements reached over recent years in the fields of trade, finance, renewable energy, and biotechnology.
According to the diplomat, practical cooperation between the two countries has grown significantly of late, citing the installation of a bus assembly plant on the island, with Chinese company Yutong which produces the buses that transport thousands of Cubans every day.
“Cuba has comparative advantages with regard to other nations in the region, above all in the healthcare sector, which is why China is looking to further expand ties in this area, above all in the field of biomedicine,” he stated.
Zhu also noted that the island’s new Foreign Investment Law and the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) open up infinite possibilities to strengthen economic collaboration, highlighting that various Chinese companies linked to biopharmaceuticals and renewable energy are hoping to establish themselves in the ZEDM.
Furthermore, the Chinese official mentioned his country’s desire to participate in Cuba’s national development projects, and as such will continue to encourage enterprises from his country to invest in and do business with Cuba.
CHINA-LATIN AMERICA: A NEW COOPERATION MODEL
Zhu Qingqiao, the man responsible for overseeing all aspects of relations between China and countries stretching from the Río Bravo to Patagonia, noted that he has been instructed by President Xi Jinping to build comprehensive, mutually beneficial multilateral ties with the region.
Despite the existence of relations between the two peoples, their development was impeded for centuries by distance, language and cultural barriers, he noted. “Today, there’s a fervor to learn Chinese in Latin America and many people here are studying Spanish and Portuguese,” he noted. This kind of mutual understanding is essential for bringing people closer together.
“We currently have broad prospects for cooperation, no geopolitical conflicts or historic disputes, and are united by a deep friendship. We have resisted foreign invasions and want to understand each other, but we must first overcome distance and the lack of knowledge,” he commented.
Latin America and the Caribbean is home to emerging and developing nations, and strengthening relations is an important part of Chinese diplomacy, Zhu stated. Our territories both find themselves in similar stages which is why we share similar projects and objectives, as well as an important economic complementarity, he added.
The official also commented on China’s long term goal of building a new stage of relations with the continent, focusing on policy, economics and trade, culture, international affairs, and cooperation.
In order to achieve this, the country has designed a new joint development model focused on three main areas; logistics, energy, and informatics to promote “beneficial interaction between companies, society, and governments, and the expansion of financing channels, such as loans and insurance.”
Beijing is now the number one or two trade partner for many Latin American and Caribbean countries, which is why the country’s plans to update its practical collaboration model with an emphasis on productive cooperation, stems not only from government policy but also a very real need.
Economic exchanges have grown exponentially over recent years. In 2000 bilateral trade between China and Latin American and Caribbean countries stood at about 10 billion dollars, a figure which had increased to 210 billion by 2016.
Zhu Qingqiao stated that Beijing has already established clear cooperation mechanisms with many regional countries in order to strengthen ties and build a common destiny.
He noted that Latin America and the Caribbean is the second most important destination for Chinese investments abroad, only surpassed by Asia. In 2016, total investment by China in the region exceeded 150 billion dollars, 100 times more than five years ago, and has expanded to new sectors such as automobile and machine production industries, cell phone factories, as well as air conditioner, bus, electronics, as well as battery and solar panel manufacturing.
The Chinese official also stated that national companies will continue to support the development of key areas for the continent, such as the expansion of infrastructure.
Among other projects, the diplomat mentioned 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 with telecommunications giant Huawei.
Zhu also touched on the need to expand ties linked to innovation and science, noting China’s willingness to export state-of-the art technologies to other countries. The existence of various environmentally conscious companies across Latin America and the Caribbean which will help create new sources of employment and continue boosting industrialization.
He also commented on the success of the China-CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) forum, a cooperation platform which was set up in 2015 and includes a fund to which China has already pledged 35 billion dollars, with 10 billion destined for specific investment projects.
LATIN AMERICA, THE CARIBBEEAN & THE SILK ROAD
Zhu highlighted opportunities for Latin America and the Caribbean to participate in the Silk Road initiative; an inclusive project launched by China but open to the entire world.
We are working on elaborating our development strategies and policies even further, with the aim of generating greater interconnectivity, he stated.
In fact, Latin America is already participating in the Silk Road with associations established between several regional countries and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). “Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, and Bolivia are already members and Peru and Argentina are in the process of joining,” he noted.
“Although the core of this project, launched by China but shared with the entire world, is concentrated across Asia, Europe and Africa, through the AIIB all associates can pursue and participate in infrastructure plans in both Asia and their countries,” he concluded.