Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Cuba on Monday for a two-day visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Cuba on Monday for a two-day visit to promote further economic ties with the island struggling to recover from three hurricanes and the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis.

No sooner had Hu landed than Cuban television said the two countries had already signed accords for China to continue purchasing nickel and sugar from Cuba and to provide agricultural products to the Caribbean country.

More agreements on economic, education and other matters were expected to be signed during a visit Cuba hailed as an indication of the close relations between the two Communist-run countries.

Hu, making his second trip to Cuba, was greeted at Havana’s airport by First Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a dragon dance performed by Cuban youths, and some 50 members of the local Chinese community who waved Cuban and Chinese flags.

“My visit is aimed at increasing friendship and cooperation between our two nations, and working together with our Cuban comrades to build a promising future,” Hu said in a statement.

Hu offered “sincere good wishes that the Cuban people achieve continuous new advances in the construction of socialism.”

China is Cuba’s largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007 and is looking to increase that number.

The Asian giant currently buys about 400,000 tons of sugar annually from Cuba and is estimated to get close to half of Cuba’s annual nickel production of 75,000 tons a year.

Due to damage from hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Paloma, which caused $10 billion in damage when they rampaged through the island this year, Cuba may be hard-pressed to promise more of either product in the near-term.

Chinese loans have helped Cuba rebound from the hardships that followed the 1991 collapse of its Cold War benefactor, the Soviet Union, and those loans are starting to come due.

Western diplomats said it was likely that restructuring those debts and future credits will be on the agenda as Hu meets with Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro.

Hu was scheduled on Tuesday to visit a school near Havana where hundreds of future Chinese diplomats, translators and functionaries are studying Spanish.

On Tuesday evening, he was to attend a ceremony where other accords with Cuba will be signed, then depart on Wednesday en route to Peru for an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

It was not known if Hu would meet with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was in power when Hu visited in 2004.

(Reuters)

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