Chinese Leader Visiting Cuba

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Chinese Leader Jiang Zemin is in Havana Thursday to meet with Cuban leader Fidel Castro as part of a continuing Latin American tour. Cuban officials say Jiang's visit will "serve to further strengthen the excellent relations" between the two countries.

The Chinese leader is expected to be in Cuba for four days, during which time he will be meeting with Castro and other high-ranking Castro government officials.

Officials say Jiang and Castro will review economic relations between their countries and sign an agreement that will boost their economic ties.

Insiders report that China is eager to expand its political and commercial influence in the Caribbean and Latin America, because most Latin American countries are allies of Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province.

China is Cuba's fourth largest trading partner. In the last two years, it has provided millions of dollars in soft credits to a cash-needy Castro government. The two communist nations doubled trade between 1993 and 1999.

Jiang's visit comes as his country and the U.S. ended an 11-day crisis Wednesday, with a letter from the U.S. saying it was "very sorry" a Chinese pilot died in a collision with its spy plane and "very sorry" the U.S. plane landed in China without permission.
Radio Havana reported Tuesday that Jiang's invitation to visit Cuba came during a recent visit to China by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Jiang's visit has also taken him to Chile, Argentina and Uruuguay. The Chinese leader will conclude his trip in Venezuela early next week.