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【留学新知】每日文章|Japan No Competition To Sino-Cuban Ties

Japanese PrimeMinister Shinzo Abe paid a visit to Cuba after attending the 71st session ofthe UN General Assembly last week, the first ever Japanese leader to visitCuba. When meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, Abe announced Japan wouldwrite off Cuba's unpaid debt of 120 billion yen ($1.2 billion) and donatenearly 1.3 billion yen of medical equipment to the country.

It's fair toconsider Abe's one-day trip to Cuba as the extension of US President Barack Obama'shistoric visit to the country in March. Exchanges between Japan and Cuba dateback to 1614 with a visit by a Japanese samurai. The two countries establisheddiplomatic ties in 1929, but later became enemies in WWII. They restoreddiplomatic relations in November 1952.

Abe mainly intendsto promote Japan's economic cooperation with Cuba via his trip, but thisinvolves some risks. Cuba has abundant mineral resources. According tostatistics of the US Geological Survey, Cuba ranks third in the world in termsof nickel reserves and is the fifth-largest producer of refined cobalt. TheNorth Cuba Basin could produce approximately 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8trillion cubic feet of natural gas. All these are considerably alluring forresource-scarce Japan.

In the meantime,Cuba has long suffered from obsolete infrastructure and medical equipment dueto the US economic blockade, which makes it a large and promising market forJapanese businesses.

Yet despiteObama's March trip to Cuba that marked the establishment of US-Cuba diplomaticties, the US government hasn't fully lifted the blockade. Since Republicansthat control the Congress don't admit or even try to repudiate the reopened USrelations with Cuba, Obama is unlikely to fully remove the blockade before histerm ends in November. There are also uncertainties in US-Cuba relations sinceRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is deadlocked withDemocratic candidate Hillary Clinton in polls, claim he will reverse the Obamadeal if he wins the election. This heralds huge political risks for Japaneseinvestment in Cuba.

Chinese Premier LiKeqiang just concluded his official visit to Cuba. Some Japanese media outletsconsider the successive visits by Japanese and Chinese leaders a competition ofthe two countries for clout in Cuba and the Americas. They read too much intothe timing because it is purely a coincidence that Abe and Li took a trip toCuba after visiting New York.

Frankly, thecompetition with Japan in sectors like energy development, economic assistanceand high-speed rail can prompt China to enhance its own capacity, as shown bythe success of Chinese companies in building high-speed rail lines overseas.

Japanese mediahighlighted that when meeting with Abe, former Cuban president Fidel Castrosaid his garden is in a Japanese style, and showed him a photo of his sonwearing traditional Japanese clothing during his wedding. Reports hinted thatthese details showed the close personal ties between Abe and Fidel Castro.

Yet interpretingthe meeting in this way is too simplistic. It's true that a good privaterelationship between leaders can help advance relations between two countries.But generally Cuba has given much grander etiquette to Chinese leaders thanAbe. When former Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited Cuba in 1993, FidelCastro conferred on him the "Jose Marti" Medal, the highest honor inCuba. The honor was also given to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his tripto Cuba in 2014. It has been widely noted that Fidel Castro received thenChinese president Hu Jintao in 2004 despite Castro suffering a fracture.Against this backdrop, Abe still has much to do to deepen Japan-Cuba relations.

Cuba is also asocialist country and its leaders and people must have learned about theeconomic achievements China has made since its reform and opening-up. A shorttrip by Abe is unlikely to shake up the friendship between Beijing and Havana.

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