China's Premier Li Keqiang seeks new tack in ties with Cuba

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) shakes hands with Cuba's President Raul Castro during their meeting at Havana's Revolution Palace, Cuba on Sept 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

HAVANA (AFP) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday (Sept 24th) said it was time for a new direction in relations with Cuba, during a landmark visit to the Americas' lone communist-ruled state.

During the first visit by a Chinese premier since the two countries established diplomatic relations 56 years ago Li pledged to "inject a new dynamic in (bilateral) relations," Cuban state media reported.

Li met with President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution, with the two communist countries signing about 30 cooperation agreements in a wide range of areas, including a protocol canceling Cuban debts and four loan deals for projects on the island, according to local television.

Though the Cold War ended years ago, Cuba remains isolated after having lost the Soviet Union, and then Venezuela, as its key political and economic allies.

Cuba has restored full diplomatic relations with its longtime nemesis, the United States.

Havana is cash-strapped and does not have access to commercial credit.

China is Cuba's top creditor - and its number two trade partner after Venezuela. Their total bilateral trade was worth US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion) in 2015, Chinese sources said.

Li called for deepening cooperation on biotechnology, renewable energy, computers, home appliances and farm machinery, as well as in culture, education and tourism.

Li arrived from Canada, after announcing with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an agreement to begin talks aimed at reaching a free-trade agreement. The two leaders set a target of doubling trade by 2025.

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner after the United States, with trade last year exceeding C$85 billion (S$88 billion).

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