Cas­tro’s death a re­minder of changed com­mu­nist axis

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

In the shadow of east Bei­jing’s soar­ing glass sky­scrapers, el­derly re­tirees still speak nos­tal­gi­cally about their Cuban broth­ers-in-arm, far­away com­rades bound by com­mu­nist sol­i­dar­ity. But in cen­tral Bei­jing’s halls of power, Cuba is per­haps seen these days as some­thing less ro­man­tic: a mar­ket for China’s boom­ing pri­vate-sec­tor ex­ports.

Viewed from the world’s largest com­mu­nist coun­try, Fidel Cas­tro’s death is a re­minder of how the com­mu­nist axis has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion since the ide­o­log­i­cally charged era when the bearded rev­o­lu­tion­ary cut a dash­ing fig­ure on the world stage along­side lead­ers like Mao Ze­dong.

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions in 1960, the coun­tries’ for­tunes di­verged over the en­su­ing decades: China be­gan adopt­ing free-mar­ket re­forms in the 1980s and mor­phed into an eco­nomic pow­er­house - Com­mu­nist mostly in name - while Cas­tro per­sisted with Marx­ism, Cuba’s econ­omy hob­bling on.

To­day, the two coun­tries’ lead­ers fre­quently nod to their shared ide­o­log­i­cal his­tory, but bi­lat­eral re­la­tions re­volve more around jointly de­vel­oped beach re­sorts or Chi­nese tele­coms in­vest­ments. In a Septem­ber visit, Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang of­fered to sup­port Cuba’s de­vel­op­ment as a “com­rade and brother,” while Cas­tro con­grat­u­lated China on the growth it has achieved and sought as­sis­tance in agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy. At around $2.2 bil­lion a year, trade be­tween the two coun­tries is dwarfed by China’s com­merce with the rest of Latin Amer­ica, which to­tals $236 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese state me­dia. But China is Cuba’s top cred­i­tor and sec­ond­largest trad­ing part­ner af­ter Venezuela, and ties have deep­ened swiftly. In De­cem­ber, Air China launched a di­rect flight from Bei­jing to Ha­vana largely to serve bur­geon­ing Chi­nese tourists look­ing to spend hol­i­days in the is­land na­tion.

“Af­ter China deep­ened re­form and opened up in early 1990s, the de­vel­op­ment of bi­lat­eral ties be­tween China and Cuba did not fo­cus too much on ide­ol­ogy,” said Zhu Feng, dean of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies at Nan­jing Uni­ver­sity. “Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and co­op­er­a­tion, which were ben­e­fi­cial to eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in both coun­tries, be­came more im­por­tant.”

Geopo­lit­i­cal tec­ton­ics have re­aligned in other ways since Cas­tro’s prime. Cuba re­stored diplo­matic re­la­tions with the United States last year af­ter a half­cen­tury freeze, a rap­proche­ment that China viewed war­ily. Mean­while, Wash­ing­ton lifted an arms em­bargo against Viet­nam, another erst­while com­mu­nist enemy, and has backed Hanoi in mar­itime dis­putes against neigh­bor­ing China. — AP

SEOUL: South Korean pro­test­ers shout slo­gans dur­ing a rally call­ing for South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye to step down in Seoul, South Korea yes­ter­day. — AP

HA­VANA: In this July 22, 2014 file photo, Cuba’s for­mer Pres­i­dent Fidel Cas­tro (right) greets China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Ha­vana. — AP

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