It is invariably the small and sometimes apparently insignificant side notes of history that reveal much about the emerging shape of things. Those who study only the "great people, the glorious incidents, and the grans gestures orchestrated by powerful individuals and institutions miss much by focusing only on what at times is a theatre of the absurd for an audience with an endless appetite for absurdity.
And so it is that one might be forgiven for overlooking an announcement buried in the website dedicated to Xi Jinping's speeches and statements. 习近平同古巴共产党中央委员会第一书记劳尔·卡斯特罗、古巴国家主席迪亚斯－卡内尔就中古建交60周年互致贺电 李克强同古巴总理马雷罗互致贺电 [Xi Jinping exchanged congratulatory messages with Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Cuban President Diaz-Canel on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Cuba. Li Keqiang and Cuban Prime Minister Marrero exchanged congratulatory messages]. That this comes only days after the Trump administration announced further tightening on the Cuban embargo ought to go less unnoticed. That it suggests a renewed interest in Cuba on the eve of Chinese fears of an American recognition or further military ties with Taiwan ought to set off the trip wires of those agencies in the United States about which I know nothing.
On its face this is the sort of announcement and exchange of diplomatic pleasantries that ought to be forgotten even before they are delivered. But context matters. And it is worth examining these "greetings" if only a little. Its pleasantries mask a long period of mutual suspicion and distrust, one profound enough to cause the sort of worry about Fidel Castro's blogging that Americans now have with President Trump's tweeting. (see Fidel Castro on Deng Xiaoping and Erich Honecker--Understanding the Foundations of Cuban Political and Economic Policy).
Reflections by Comrade Fidel: "DENG XIAOPING" : HE thought of himself as a wise man and, doubtless, he was. But he made a small mistake. "Cuba has to be punished," he said one day. Our country never even pronounced his name. It was a totally unwarranted offense. Fidel Castro Ruz June 14, 2012 1:40 p.m. (Original Spanish Version): Presumía de hombre sabio y, sin duda, lo era. Pero incurrió en un pequeño error. "Hay que castigar a Cuba", dijo un día. Nuestro país nunca pronunció siquiera su nombre. Fue una ofensa absolutamente gratuita.
The text of the pleasant exchanges are set out below in the original Chinese as well as a crude English translation along with brief reflections.
PostScript: What is lurking in the background--U.S., Taiwan to team up on infrastructure in pushback against China ("The de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei said the new plan would support
“quality infrastructure in emerging markets”, while Taiwan Foreign
Minister Joseph Wu said it dovetailed the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy
with Taiwan’s own New Southbound Policy.)"
1. There is very little to celebrate in this relationship beyond the passage of time. Sixty years is a long time when measured against the longevity of even very powerful Marxist Leninist states. And it is no doubt very much on core leadership minds that anniversaries are like fetish objects and may carry (exploitable) political significance. Cultures count, and they have a mania for measuring achievement as a function of time. Anniversaries are times for ritual self-reflection. Even the most superficial rituals of recognition, like those reflected in the reported messages between the leadership cores of both states, acknowledge the power of time as the measure of all things. But seventy years is an even more important anniversary--and one that crucially important for China when it measures itself against both the Soviet Union (and European Marxist Leninism), and as a function of its achievements in the areas it cares about most (socialist modernization and the building of a Socialist moral order).
2. It is well known that Cuban Marxists are torn about China. That is reflected in Fidel Castro's refections about Deng Xiaoping quoted above. Raúl Castro and the military have profited much from a close association with their colleagues in the People's Liberation Army. But the respective nomenclatures of these states have not shared the same vision from the time of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. One can get a whiff of this in the subtle differences of the greetings sent by Raúl Castro (military--"has always maintained sincere friendship ") and Diaz Canel (nomenklatura)--"close friendship between Cuba and China has been tested over the years").
3. Necessity, however, rules over the land of the lotus eaters(λωτοφάγοι--Homer, Odyssey, Book IX). COVID and the imperatives of Chinese decoupling from the United States has permitted a measure of (sometimes wary) strategic relationships between these two Leninist cousins. That, more than anything, is what emerges from the pleasantries. But it is important. COVID has made it possible for the Chinese to concieve of adding the Caribbean and its crown jewel to its Belt and Road Initiative in a meaningful way. That ought to be understood as a provocation by the United States. Or a warning as the United States seeks to detach Vietnam (and eventually Cambodia. . .if they have the funds) from China's orbit. This has not escaped the notice of even the popular press in the West (Boris Johnson FIRES BACK at ‘expansionist’ China as Beijing 'sparks' Queen Barbados split). There is much more here, then, than meets the eye. China has been good for Cuba at leats with respect to its pharma sector, about the only aspect of its 2030 economic plan that might be salvaged from the COVID 19 disaster. China sees in Cuba an irritation and a means of projecting power quite close to the American heartland at fairly little cost--from the Chinese perspective (unlike the Soviets who were far more profligate spenders on Cuba for their own reasons), the Chinese continue to keep Cuba on a tight aid leash to the frustration of Cuban officials. It ought to be enough to annoy the Americans, and the screws are tightening. But to what effect either way remains to be seen.
Xi Jinping exchanged congratulatory messages with Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Cuban President Diaz-Canel on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Cuba. Li Keqiang and Cuban Prime Minister Marrero exchanged congratulatory messages
Source: Xinhua Net Release Time: 2020-09-28
Xinhua News Agency, Beijing, September 28. On September 28, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and President Xi Jinping exchanged views with Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Cuban President Diaz-Canel. Congratulations, warmly celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In his congratulatory message to Raul Castro, Xi Jinping pointed out that Cuba is the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with New China. In the 60 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations, China-Cuba relations have withstood the test of the changing international situation and have become stronger over time. China and Cuba continue to deepen political mutual trust, and pragmatic cooperation has yielded fruitful results. The two countries are in the same boat and help each other to fight the new COVID-19 epidemic, and the traditional friendship between the two countries has been sublimated. I cherish the special friendly relations between China and Cuba very much, and I am willing to maintain close communication with you, and take the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries as an opportunity to promote China and Cuba to be good friends, good comrades and good brothers forever.
In his congratulatory message to Dias-Canel, Xi Jinping pointed out that since the establishment of diplomatic relations 60 years ago, China and Cuba have understood, trusted and supported each other and forged a profound friendship. In recent years, the friendly cooperation between China and Cuba has developed in an all-round and in-depth manner, actively building the “Belt and Road” initiative and bringing tangible benefits to the two peoples. China and Cuba have stood together and helped each other in the fight against the new COVID-19 epidemic, writing a new chapter in the friendship between the two peoples. I attach great importance to the development of China-Cuba relations, and I am willing to work with you to continuously deepen political mutual trust, expand practical cooperation in various fields, and better benefit the two countries and the two peoples.
Raúl Castro stated in the message that Cuba is the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and has always maintained sincere friendship with its brotherly China, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people. The Cuban side thanks China for its firm support and is convinced that the 60-year-old friendship between Cuba and China will be passed on from generation to generation and will last forever.
Diaz-Canel stated in the message that the close friendship between Cuba and China has been tested over the years, and both sides have always regarded each other's achievements in socialist construction as their own. In the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, both Cuba and China are committed to unity and cooperation, pool resources to save lives, and adopt scientific prevention and control measures to carry out international cooperation. We are willing to continue to consolidate the traditional friendship between Cuba and China and expand cooperation in various fields.
On the same day, Premier Li Keqiang of the State Council and Cuban Prime Minister Marrero also exchanged congratulatory messages. Li Keqiang said in the congratulatory message that since the establishment of diplomatic relations 60 years ago, the relations between the two countries have developed rapidly and cooperation in various fields has continued to advance, which not only benefits the two countries and their peoples, but also has a positive impact on the development of China-Latin America relations. China and Cuba share weal and woe and help each other in the fight against the new crown pneumonia epidemic, and the traditional friendship between the two countries has further deepened. China attaches great importance to the development of China-Cuba relations, and is willing to work with Cuba to continue to carry forward the tradition of friendship between the two countries, consolidate political mutual trust, continuously enrich the connotation and results of mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries, join hands to build the "Belt and Road", continue to advance anti-epidemic cooperation, and promote a new era The Sino-Cuban relations in China have been steadily and far-reaching, and have been continuously reaching new levels. On behalf of the Cuban government and people, Marrero extended his warmest congratulations to China and said that Cuba is willing to continue to deepen bilateral economic and trade cooperation and raise it to a higher level.