Chinese President on Cuban Visit

President Hu Jintao has arrived in Cuba on his tour of Latin America. China is the island’s biggest trading partner after Venezuela. From the BBC:

China has seen its trade with Latin American nations climb from $13bn in 2000 to more than $100bn in 2007.

“My visit is aimed at increasing friendship and co-operation between our two nations, and working together with our Cuban comrades to build a promising future,” Mr Hu said in a statement. …

China, a modern-day economic powerhouse in a world of financial uncertainty, sees Cuba with its need for investment and political support as an important ally in its long-range plans to strengthen and expand its ties with the rest of Latin America, he adds.

After Cuba, Hu will head to Peru for the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) summit in Lima. The AP’s Frank Bajak reports that China isn’t letting the global financial crisis get in the way of its ambitions in Latin America:

China’s trade with Latin America was $102 billion last year, but already in the first nine months of this year it reached $111 billion, Chile’s ambassador to Beijing, Fernando Reyes, told The Associated Press. That compares with U.S.-Latin American trade of $560 billion last year.

Hu’s government insists its interests are not just commercial. In its first policy paper on ties with the region, China’s foreign ministry suggested it might help Latin American countries reduce their debts. It also said it wants to help Latin American nations narrow the gap between rich and poor.

To that end, China last month bought into the Interamerican Development Bank with a very modest $350 million investment for social, anti-poverty related projects. That compares to Washington’s 30 percent stake in a fund that exceeds $100 billion.

The money may be small, but the symbolism is big: The United States isn’t the only world power Latin America can turn to for help.

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