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Chinese, Cuban presidents sign 16 economic cooperation agreements

AFP | Nov 23 2004

Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hu Jintao of China signed 16 economic cooperation agreements, including a lucrative investment in Cuban nickel production, only hours after the third visit by a Chinese leader here began.

The visit was the final stop on Hu's first Latin America tour, which also took him to Brazil, Argentina and Chile, where he attended an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Hu was welcomed at the Havana airport by Defense Minister Raul Castro, the president's brother and the number two in the Cuban government. Hu then headed to the presidential palace for talks with Castro.

There, Castro, recuperating from a broken knee, welcomed the Chinese leader with a "Viva China!" from his wheelchair before inviting Hu into the government palace for private talks.

"We sincerely wish that the Cuban people march without surrender on the road to building socialism," the Chinese leader said.

Hu said his "visit will achieve our goal of deepening our friendship and finance out cooperation," he said.

Both sides have hailed the importance of the 29-hour visit, which came as reformist China enjoys a booming economy, while Cuba, the only communist state in the Western Hemisphere, remains mired in a deep crisis.

Castro already has made it clear he expected the visit to bring significant investments to the Caribbean island nation, whose economy has suffered a steady decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Only two hours after his arrival, Hu and Castro publicly signed 16 cooperation agreements, including one boosting the extraction of nickel from Cuba's top world reserve estimated at 800 million tonnes.

The agreement calls for building an extraction facility that will produce 22,500 tons of nickel and cobalt per year.

Located in the Cuban province of Holguin, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana, the Las Cariocas plant will boost Cuban nickel production from its current 75,000 tonnes a year to almost 100,000 tonnes, a long-sought goal of the Cuban government.

The plant will be 49 percent owned by China's Minmetal and 51 percent by Cuba's Cubaniquel monopoly.

China and Europe are the chief importers of Cuban nickel.

Other agreements signed by Hu and Castro favor the biotechnology, tourism, telecommunications, fishing, education and health sectors.

On the sidelines of the presidential summit, representatives of 37 Chinese and about 60 Cuban companies met Monday to explore bilateral trade opportunities.

"China today is an important partner for Cuba and represents almost 10 percent of our island's foreign trade," Cuba's Government Minister Ricardo Cabrisas said in his opening address at the First Sino-Cuban Investment and Trade Forum, held at a Havana hotel.

He said bilateral trade between January and October reached 600 million dollars.

Castro, 78, who maintains the firm grip he has held over Cuba for 45 years, suffered a fall late last month which broke his left knee and confined him to a wheelchair.

Hu, 61, China's president since March 2003, appeared comfortably in command at the APEC summit, only months after his predecessor Jiang Zemin resigned his last official position, as commander in chief.

His trip to Havana is the third by a Chinese president, following 1993 and 2001 visits by Jiang.

The Chinese leader is expected to reiterate Beijing's rejection of the US embargo against Cuba, which US President George W. Bush further tightened in June.

But their discussions on the future development of socialism are likely to remain private, as has been the case in past discussions between leaders of the two countries.

The encounter is likely to have its share of tension, however, as Castro has rejected the path of reform China's leaders have followed for 25 years.




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