November 30, 1995
Web posted at: 9:45 a.m. EST (1345 GMT)
From Correspondent Tom Mintier
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- On Cuban President Fidel Castro's second day in China, Beijing issued a strong statement in support of Cuba and its struggle to overturn a U.S. economic blockade of the Caribbean nation.
"China and Cuba both are socialist countries and both have experience facing 'blockades' and 'sanctions,'" the State Council's influential Economic Daily said in a commentary issued Thursday. "But the two countries do not fear blockades or strangleholds.
"China's people steadfastly support Cuba's struggle," it said. "We believe the Cuban people, relying on unswerving faith and nimble actions, will surely win a greater victory in the struggle against the blockade."
The deliberate show of solidarity gave emphasis to Castro's historic first visit to China.
Castro climbed the steps of the Great Hall of the People Thursday for an elaborate state welcome. Although he has stood beside many Communist leaders in Moscow, all the way back to Nikita Khrushchev, the ceremony was far from routine. It was only after the breakup of the Soviet Union that relations between Cuba and China warmed to the point that this welcome was possible.
China's Communist Party chief and President Jiang Zemin greeted Castro with a warm embrace inside the hall. Like so many other heads of state before him, Castro was asked to review the troops assembled inside. The Chinese military band played the Cuban national anthem, the first time it has played it in public.
With the official ceremonies behind them, Castro and Jiang then got down to business. The Cuban and Chinese delegations sat opposite each other at a very long table for discussions apparently centered on economic issues. Getting Cuba's faltering economy back on track may be the primary reason for Castro's trip. He reportedly wants to see how the Chinese have improved their economy and see if some of those changes could be applied at home.
After the talks, both sides signed several economic agreements; details have not been made public. Once the papers were finished and exchanged, both leaders prepared for the event that usually signals the deal has been completed: a champagne toast.
The improved relationship with China may provide Cuba with increased political leverage against the United States to lift its economic embargo.
"The American economic blockade will have to go one day," said Cuba's ambassador to China, Jose Guerra. "I don't know when." Guerra said that only when the embargo is lifted will a special economic zone be possible. (143K AIFF sound or 143K WAV sound)
When asked by reporters whether he expects the United States to lift its grip, Guerra replied, "Yes. I'm hopeful that one day, sooner or later, let us not put dates on it, (the embargo) will have to go. We're maturing."
Since the 1960s, Cuba's primary trading and aid partner was the former Soviet Union, which accounted for 80 percent of its trade. But those days are over and hard times have hit the island nation. Last year, the Chinese trade with Cuba was just $500 million. Castro hopes that figure will be much higher after this visit.
While Cuba long ago recognized China's Communist government, it was just two years ago that formal diplomatic ties were established. With Castro's long-standing relationship with the leaders of the former Soviet Union now gone, it appears that both ideologically and economically China stands to be Cuba's new best friend.
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