Cash-strapped Cuba eyes Asian economies
Published on Monday, May 14, 2007
HAVANA, Cuba (AFP): Communist Cuba is stepping up contacts with Asian
nations, most of which do not share its political views but have the
potential to invest heavily in the communist-run island.
Just a few days ago, Chinese Defense Minister Cao Ganchuan and
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Shunmugam Jayakumar found themselves
in Havana at the same time, a coincidence that reflected a recent flurry
of diplomatic activity between Cuba and Asia.
"Asia is the area of the world that has the most recently successful
economies, and Cuba needs to diversify its ties," said Marifeli
Perez-Stable, a Cuba expert at the Washington-based Inter-American
She also believes Cuba the diplomatic activity could signal an eventual
shift toward a more open economy under acting president Raul Castro, who
has officially led the country since his older brother Fidel Castro
underwent surgery in July.
"I see it as a hopeful sign Cuba might slowly reorient its foreign
policy toward its economic interest," said Perez-Stable.
Earlier this month, Japan's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Midori
Matsushima held talks with senior Cuban officials during a rare visit by
a Japanese official to the communist-run Caribbean nation.
And last month, Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque traveled to
India, Vietnam and China, returning to Havana in time for a visit by Wu
Guanzheng, an influential member of China's Politburo.
While Chinese military visits to Cuba, like Cao's trip, are frequent,
relations between the two countries are predominantly commercial.
China is Cuba's second largest trade partner after Venezuela, with trade
close to two billion dollars in 2006. It is also a major source of credit.
"The Cubans and the Chinese have flourishing relations. The Chinese are
in Cuba big time," said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst.
Trade with China has grown steadily since the 1991 collapse of the
Soviet Union deprived Cuba of its staunchest ally and financial backer.
The bilateral trade has been crucial in helping Cuba deal with its
transportation crisis, with the supply of sorely needed locomotives and
busses from China.
Yet, a major investment in Cuba's nickel industry, promised by President
Hu Jintao during a 2004 visit to Cuba, never materialized, and both
sides remain tight-lipped about the fate of the project.
"I think they Chinese are beginning to realize Cubans are not easy to
deal with, they don't pay their bills on time," said Latell of the
Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Miami University's Cuba Transition projects estimates that Cuba owes
China 1.77 billion dollars, while Japan is owed 2.2 billion dollars.
But potential investors are keeping a close eye on exploratory drilling
just off the Cuban coast, that could one day turn the financially ailing
regime into a flush oil exporter.
India's Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas are among the companies exploring
for oil in Cuban waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
"It makes perfect sense for Cuba to be reaching out to Asia,
particularly if Raul Castro opens up the economy from where it is now,"