Raul Castro’s Trip to China and Vietnam

Fernando Ravsberg

Chinese companies are engaged in onshore oil extraction while the Vietnamese are exploring Cuban waters. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — President Raul Castro traveled a long way to meet with his closest ideological allies. Like Cuba, China and Vietnam are survivors of the shipwreck of “real socialism,” but the latter two have already left their lifeboats and are sailing in their own ships.

Despite economic ties with Venezuela and its close political relations with Chavez, Cuba is patterning itself on the Asian socialist model. The island’s leaders speak of “adjustments” to avoid using the word “reform,” but they’re moving slowly in the same direction as their Vietnamese partners.

No one knows exactly what issues will be raised by the general-president with his Asian counterparts. It’s difficult to read between the lines, but Cuba’s key concern is finding a model that will allow it to move beyond the survival phase.

The trip by President Raul Castro is part of an intense series of contacts between the three nations. It was preceded by the visit of Vietnamese leaders, China’s vice president Xi Jinping (that nation’s future top leader) and most recently by the trip taken by the architect of the Cuban reforms, Marino Murillo.


Official information about the trip took up just two paragraphs in Cuba’s official newspaper. It reported only that Castro would visit China and Vietnam, and that he would be accompanied by Ricardo Cabrisas, the vice president of the Council of Ministers; and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Such an economy of words is keeping people on the margin concerning the trip. However, most Cubans speculate in the same direction. “It’s about searching for a vision of how to implement a market economy in Cuba,” says Deyanira Rodriguez.

Abelardo Mena, the curator of Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts, told BBC News that he doesn’t know what issues the president will touch on in Asia, but he believes “it could be a fact finding mission to examine firsthand the possible application in Cuba of the model of those countries.”

China’s presence

Both China and Vietnam are parts of Cuba’s life preserver. Beijing is the second largest trading partner with the island [after Venezuela], with $1.9 billion (USD) in annual commerce. In the meantime, the Vietnamese are searching for oil in Cuban waters and their country is the main supplier of rice, which is essential to the national diet.

Cuba was able to avert a complete transportation crisis through the purchase of hundreds of buses, cars and locomotives from China. Photo: Raquel Perez

Transportation in Cuba is based mainly on Chinese buses, cars and locomotives. What also come from that country are low-energy consuming refrigerators and millions of other appliances that have been distributed to all Cuban families.

Despite the ideological identification, however, bilateral relations are not the same as what existed with the Soviet Union. Beijing supports Cuba but also protects its loans, guaranteeing them with part of Cuba’s nickel reserves.

The good relations between Cuba and Latin America make it an ideal bridge to invest in a region not affected by the global crisis. In fact, an “army” of youths are being trained on the island as thousands of Chinese are studying Spanish on the outskirts of Havana.

An old friend

The relations with Vietnam, which date back to the war against US invasion, are much closer and have a strong ideological character. Cuba supported the Vietnamese guerrillas morally and practically and also assisted with that county’s reconstruction.

In the middle of the war, Fidel Castro visited the liberated territories of South Vietnam, and Cuba maintained an ambassador in that area. Teams of Cuban doctors treated the wounded in Hanoi, while workers and engineers from the island cooperated on the construction of secret roadways.

After the war, Havana sent hundreds of technicians, including advisors specializing in tilapia fish farming and coffee production. Paradoxically, today Vietnam exports $2 billion USD worth of tilapia and also sells coffee, while Cuba has to import it, explained Raul Castro.

But the Vietnamese were not ungrateful. They are the leading seller of rice to Cuba, and on more than one occasion they have sent boatloads of free rice. Currently they are exploring for oil in Caribbean waters and their agricultural technicians are now advising Cuban farmers.

Contacts between the Chinese and Cubans are expanding every year due to credit support that Raul Castro has received from Beijing. Photo: Raquel Perez

The Cuban Perspective

More than in the “21st Century Socialism” proclaimed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba is looking for its model in Asia. Several delegations of Cuban economists and businesspeople were sent to China and Vietnam to study their socio-economic situations and systems.

Most Cuban experts agree that Vietnam is much closer to Cuba than China – given the country’s physical size, population, social characteristics, political structure and its conflict with the US.

Friendship and ideological identification has not been an obstacle to each Vietnamese leader reminding the Cubans that if they really want to push through reforms, the first and most important is a change of mentality.

To advance a “Doi Moi” (renovation), as was done in Vietnam to allow it to “take off” economically, Cuban authorities need to take much stronger steps to break with the model that has already demonstrated its economic inefficiency.


7 thoughts on “Raul Castro’s Trip to China and Vietnam

  • I will visit Havana next month, looking for the chance to open a Vietnamese restaurant here.
    But I heart that will be hard to get the license.

  • george provides a refreshing alternative to the pseudo economics of moses. i have written this in several comments. poverty in cuba is greatly exaggerated. there is more genuine poverty in america than in cuba. moses should go to cuba and see if he can find any homeless people. homeless people are everywhere in america except for a few places like palm beach, palm springs, gated communities and other up market suburbs with a strong police presence to keep out the human trash. most of the residents of the streets of india who have been there for generations have disappeared !!!!!!! the homeless beggars you do still see in india are not homeless. after begging 2 or 3 dollars which goes a long way in india they go home about 11 at night. what used to be called the third world recently passed the first world in GDP. china makes 80% more cars than america although most of them are not useless gas guzzlers. china passed america years ago in industrial production. china is weak in food production because so many of their workers are now in industry. brasil, argentina, australia, new zealand, europe and america are just china’s farms. an australian billionaire has ordered a replica of the titanic, 46,000 tons, from china so now china is in the cruise ship business with the china price. the china state shipbuilding corporation can build ships up to 500,000 DWT. that is 170% bigger than the biggest cruise ship in the world at present. the cuban government wants more cruise ships to call in cuba. raul should have picked up a cut price, china price cruise ship on credit while he was in china. chinese made bendy buses don’t float !!!

  • Some perspective please…

    “[Cuba] is still richer than China, less unequal and less corrupt… China is the great growth story of the 21st century, while Cuba is often deemed a basket case. That’s not entirely fair. China is economically freer than Cuba, according to the Heritage Foundation, but Cuba is less corrupt and ranks much higher on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Cubans have a higher life expectancy, and more years of schooling. Moreover, Cuba’s per capita GDP, measured in current U.S. dollars, is still somewhat higher even after China’s recent growth, while its incomes are significantly more equally distributed.” – China Grows Faster But Most Cubans Are Better Off By Martin Hutchinson

    “Overworked, underpaid workers ostensibly liberated by the largest socialist revolution in history (China’s) are driven to the brink of suicide to keep those in the west playing with their iPads. Chinese money bankrolls an otherwise bankrupt America.

    The irony is scarcely wasted on leading Marxist thinkers. “The domination of capitalism globally depends today on the existence of a Chinese Communist party that gives de-localised capitalist enterprises cheap labour to lower prices and deprive workers of the rights of self-organisation,” says Jacques Rancière, the French marxist thinker and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris VIII. “Happily, it is possible to hope for a world less absurd and more just than today’s.”” – Why Marxism is on the rise again by Stuart Jeffries

    “China is reversing its flirtation with a type of quasi- capitalism that allowed entrepreneurs to thrive and propelled the economy forward at an annual rate of about 10 percent.

    The Chinese now follow the so-called Beijing consensus, a belief that concentrating more control of industry in government hands will avoid the financial debacles caused by free markets.

    The nation’s state-owned companies are buying up independent businesses in the auto, steel and energy industries. A government-run company even plans its own Internet search business to compete with Baidu Inc., whose shares trade on stock exchanges.” – China’s State-Planned Economy Is Doomed To Flop by David Pauly

    I contest David Pauly’s title but the quote is insightful… China is again examining the benefits of centrally planned economies at a time when it’s working class can no longer soak up any more of the slack needed to keep Western capitalism afloat… it is Western capitalism that is doomed to flop… the question is what will happen then…

  • Military cooperation between China and Cuba? Ooooh shivers! How can you criticize the US for its extraterritorial military presence and promote the same thing for China? Oye, if Cuba really wanted to give the US a taste of its own medicine all they have to do is live well. When the Vietnamese economy began to flourish and experts began to predict the Chinese may have the largest economy in the world by 2025,the same Americans who hate Cuba began to get knots in their stomach. When smugglers are sneaking Americans into Cuba instead of Cubans into America, you will get your “gotcha”. If you think it could never happen, you are probably right but then we said the same thing about Japan in 1946. Forty years later Americans could not get enough of Sony, Lexus, and Panasonic and still can’t. One thing is for sure, it ain’t gonna happen unless Cubans fight for it. No one is giving the good life away anymore.

  • It’s the first time since he became Cuba’s president.

  • What an interesting article! I don’t keep track of these matters but is this the first time that Raul Castro visited the People’s Republic of China? I don’t think so. The sense of cooperation that comes across from the writing of the above article is a good feeling.

  • Best way to deal with economic sanctions! China and Cuba should discuss military cooperation and have a Chinese military base in Cuba. Americans will understand how others feel about military exercises constantly at their doorsteps!

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