This is the first state visit to Havana by a Japanese head of government. Medical aid, debt relief, and investments dominate talks. In return, Castro will use his good offices to curb North Korea, Cuba’s old ally. China’s Li Keqiang will follow Abe, a sign that East Asia is increasingly interested in the Caribbean.
Havana (AsiaNews) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday became the first Japanese leader to visit communist-ruled Cuba. Abe and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to boost bilateral economic relations and forgive some of Cuba’s huge debt toward Japan. In return, Cuba will use its good offices to curb North Korea’s nuclear provocations.
The visit follows Cuba’s thawing relations with the United States. The two countries re-establish diplomatic relations in 2015 after 50 years of embargo.
Tokyo is a historic ally of Washington and has always tried to follow – whenever possible – US foreign policy.
Of the 700 foreign companies present in the island nation, only 18 are Japanese. Until now the trade was limited to the exchange of Cuban seafood, tobacco and coffee for Japanese industrial machinery.
Japanese Prime Minister now wants to develop economic cooperation, but in return wants Cuban aid on the North Korean nuclear issue.
Havana has good relations with Pyongyang. Both countries are non-aligned countries and backed each other when they faced embargoes.
This cooperation has sometimes circumvented international law. A few years ago, Cuban ships have been intercepted carrying weapons to North Korea disguised as sugarcane.
During the meeting with Castro, Abe granted US$ 13 million in medical aid to the country. He also referred to a recent bilateral agreement under which Japan would waive ¥120 billion (US$ 1.2 billion) of Cuba’s debt to Japan.
Before his meeting with Raul Castro, the Japanese leader also met former President Fidel Castro.
The island trip has another purpose, namely countering Chinese expansion into the Caribbean, this according to several analysts.
The area has long been at the centre of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Taipei via economic aid for diplomatic recognition from the region’s smaller nations. It is therefore no accident that as soon as Abe leaves, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang will land in Havana.
According to Deputy Minister Wang Chang, Li will travel to Cuba right after his visit to the United Nations General Assembly. This too will be a first for a Chinese head of government. However, President Xi Jinping visited the Caribbean island two years ago. Havana and Beijing have always had fraternal diplomatic relations.
Like Abe, the Chinese leader intends to focus on economics to further bilateral relations and the traditional friendship between the two countries.