14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 25 November 2022 — The chronicles of the time say that when he had already replaced his brother at the head of power, Raúl Castro received a delegation of Chinese in Havana and surprised everyone by speaking Chinese and singing songs from that country. Will Díaz-Canel do the same? Anything can be expected.
Well, after 15 and a half hours of flight from Ankara, Díaz-Canel’s pan-handling delegation arrived in Beijing, with the aim of raising money, this time from the supposed Chinese friends. And here the term “supposed” can be taken any way you want. Unlike the Russians, with whom there was an ideological connection from the early days of the so-called cold-war revolution, Chinese and Cuban friendship went through different stages, some of them complicated, especially when Fidel Castro publicly condemned Mao Tse Tung’s repressive action in the 1960s during the cultural revolution, standing alongside the Soviets.
Who would have thought? Almost half a century later, Castro’s heir arrives in the capital of the forbidden city precisely on the same day that the death of the maximum leader is commemorated. The Cuban communist state press has made it very clear to him: the front pages are for the immortal. The trip to China has been relegated to second or third place.
Someone might believe that this is due to the preeminence in Cuba of Fidel Castro, who is treated on the sixth anniversary of his death as if he were still alive. But no, it seems that the maneuver of ’disappearing’ the trip of Díaz-Canel’s entourage obeys more obvious reasons, such as, for example, that it is still a failure in terms of the collection of money and in the identification of a “milk cow” that provides the Díaz-Canel regime with financing in exchange for nothing, as the USSR and Venezuela did. Times have changed, and no one is ready for that game. And we shall see what happens with the Chinese.
Díaz-Canel said that he has presented himself in China with an invitation from the only party, the Chinese communist, whose leader, Xi Jinping, the same character who publicly purged his predecessor during the 20th congress and who questioned the Prime Minister of Canada for disclosing content to the press in the G-20. President Xi is someone who doesn’t mess around. Again, the Cuban communist delegation arrived at the Beijing airport at an untimely hour and was received by a very low-level government official, Xie Feng, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Facing the caravan’s media, and for domestic consumption, Díaz Canel said that “it is a pleasure to be in the People’s Republic of China. For us it is an honor that we have been invited, as the first country in Latin America, to visit China, after the successful celebration of the 20th Congress,” insisting once again on the invitation, because the cost of the trip, for a budget like the Cuban one, begins to be scandalous. An independent audit of expenses would show that, apart from the invitation, there is a lot of expenditure in this entourage that is little or not at all justified for the Cuban people, whom they claim to serve, and who are hungry.
It was announced that during the visit there will be official talks with Xi Jinping, Li Zhanshu, President of the National People’s Assembly and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, as well as the signing of more than ten agreements between the parties.
The good relations between China and Cuba are part of the global strategy of the Asian giant to occupy positions of economic control in Latin America. China, in its objective of becoming the world’s leading power, has developed a global extractive model of income and resources in the countries where it is established, and through this mechanism it increases its economic power, grants aid for cooperation, permeates financial systems and occupies commercial positions in sectors of interest.
Its interest in politics is relative. Countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have witnessed that extractive invasion of China that has benefitted significantly from globalization. The strategy has worked well for the Asian giant. Producing low-cost goods worldwide by international companies installed in its territory, China has obtained substantial trade benefits that have increased its economic power. The rest is known.
And meanwhile, Díaz-Canel is talking about China as if it were an “ancient civilisation whose cultural and historical values have endured over time and constitute a heritage not only of China, but of all humanity”; or he’s recalling Che Gievara’s visit in 1960 to establish relations. And from all this he concludes that “this profile is the one that has captivated the Island despite the geographic distance.” This argument that can look pretty good in a second-class brochure, but it has very little to do with global geopolitics. Getting off the plane in Beijing, and wearing a black beret, Díaz-Canel, according to Granma, sent “the warmest congratulations to my counterpart Xi Jinping,” who at that time was sleeping soundly.
Another mistake by Díaz-Canel is to think that Cuba and China are today references for the construction of socialism. All you have to do is to take a walk around Beijing, or any of the great capitals that are filling up with skyscrapers, to verify the enormous distance between Chinese socialism and the communist destruction that exists in Cuba. Wanting to compare the two countries is an insult to intelligence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Xi, with the character he has, commented on it.
Díaz-Canel has placed cooperation in the biotechnology sector as the main objective of the visit, but there must be more. In fact, China ranks second in the world as a commercial partner of the Island, a short distance from Venezuela, which is receding. Cuba’s exports to China reached 417 million dollars in 2021 (ONEI yearbook), 21% of the total, just behind Canada, which reached 613 million dollars. On the other hand, Cuba’s imports from China reached 972 million dollars, 11.5% of the total. In this case, China was behind Venezuela, with 1.245 billion dollars. This position of second trading partner of the Island is accompanied by a very unbalanced trade deficit of minus 555 million dollars that requires financing. On the other hand, in 2021 only 799 tourists from China came to Cuba, after reaching 49,000 in 2018.
The Cuban communist regime’s commitment to China carries risks. Basically, because the Chinese don’t give anything for free. They always demand something in return, such as the part of the sugar harvest that corresponds to them and which Cuba cannot manage to deliver, due to the low levels of harvests in recent years. Or in the case of minerals, or tobacco, the Chinese have travelled to Cuba to look for resources to extract, but the landscape they find is well known: devastation and widespread poverty. In addition, the Chinese are not interested in tourism or services, which is what Díaz-Canel offers. The Chinese don’t give a fig about coincidences on the political level with the Cuban regime; they want something else.
The visit to the Asian giant has just begun. The entourage is already tired of so many thousands of miles. The bet is high, but the results are uncertain. It doesn’t seem that China will become the substitute for Venezuela. It will ask for something in return.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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