Cuban ambassador to China: B&R is a new way of globalization

Belt & Road conducted an interview with Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos, the Cuban ambassador to China. February 12, 2018

Following is the transcript of an exclusive interview with Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos, the Cuban ambassador to China.

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos,Cuban ambassador to China. Out of all the issues in the 19th CPC National Congress report, was there anything that stood out to you? Why?

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: I think the 19th Party Congress was a historic landmark not only for China, but for all the countries that follow a socialist path. In the case of Cuba we took a lot of references out of the congress and we believe that we can apply some of them according to our national features. I believe it was really relevant, and we could see the impact of the thought of “Socialism for a New Era” of President Xi Jinping, that has implications not only for China but for the whole world. What do you make of the “New Era” that China is trying to shift towards with its recent policies?

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: Well, the “New Era” already started five years ago, and it has been growing step by step. I believe the “New Era” is the consolidation of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics,” that will have a special impact in 2020 when poverty will be totally eradicated, or in 2049 when China will become a modern socialist country. So I believe there is a solid basis for development and we are at the right moment to start. In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Cuba. He stated that the two sides should extend their friendship, develop mutually beneficial win-win cooperation, and be partners in reform and development. In your opinion, under the new circumstances and following the principle of maintaining friendship and promoting pragmatic cooperation between China and Cuba, in what respects can the two countries further enhance communication and coordination, and promote the continuous development of China-Cuba relations?

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: The visit of President Xi Jinping to Cuba was indeed a historic visit. It was preceded by a previous visit by President Xi Jinping carried out in 2011 when he was Vice President. So it indicated a strong connection between the two countries. I believe, still that there are more areas in which we can enhance cooperation, particularly in the area of bio-technology, in the area of renewable energy, tourism, and others. I believe Cuba can contribute with strong advances in the area of bio-technology and at the same time obtain cooperation, technologies, and financing from China to develop a group of areas in our economy. The 19th CPC National Congress report indicates that China will continue to open up its borders and actively promote international cooperation within the Belt and Road Initiative. In your opinion, what role could Cuba play within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative?

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: As you are aware, it was already some years ago, in 2013 when the idea of the new Silk Road was first raised, and in the last five years it has already consolidated very strongly.

From what we saw in the year 2017 there was an international event here and two ministers came for that event from the area of communication and the area of industry, indicating our willingness to be involved. Already we have some programs of cooperation in the area of information communication. And we believe, after the China-CELAC Forum that took place recently in Chile, that there are more opportunities for our region to integrate. As President Xi Jinping has said, our region is a natural extension of the Silk Road route and we believe we can take advantage of it.

I have to mention that, in the 16th and 17th century we had our own Silk Road that came from Fujian and Guangdong provinces through Philippines and then to Mexico, and from Mexico, all the cargo was carried out by mules through the country and then sent again to Spain from Cuba. We have been connected with this route for more than three centuries already, so it is very natural that we would like to reiterate, to update this connection that we have established with China for so many centuries. I believe that there are opportunities in the areas of infrastructures, logistics, ports, airports, and information communication. Cultural exchanges are the bond between the peoples of the two countries. Over the years, we have conducted a wealth of exchange events. From your perspective, how should the two sides expand cultural exchanges so that Sino-Cuban friendship can be passed on from generation to generation?

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: I have to mention that Cuba was the first country in the western hemisphere to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1960. Cuba was also the first Spanish-speaking country that accepted Chinese people to study Spanish. So since the 1960s we have already established cooperation with China in the area of language. We have established cultural cooperation agreements for many years. We have had a lot of exchanges in the area of theatrical and circus exchanges. Every year we have a troupe in the month of June when we celebrate the anniversary of those Chinese who travelled to Cuba. They integrated in our nationality; they became part of our nation. So the interaction with the Chinese culture is not just between two nations, it’s also within our own nation itself.

When you go to Santiago, you take part in the Carnival. The most important feature is the Chinese trumpet that is played during the Carnival. When you go to a restaurant in Havana, you will see Chinese food as a traditional, normal food of the Cuban people. So it’s almost natural that we continue to strengthen our cultural ties with China.

In the 1990s, our Commander in Chief Fidel Castro carried out a program for more than 3,000 Chinese students to study in Cuba, not only Spanish but medicine and other careers, and also strengthen the bonds between both countries.

Nowadays, on February 2, the [27th] International Book Fair started in Havana. It is a yearly event, the most important cultural event that takes place in Cuba every year, and this year it is dedicated to China. It is the guest of honor. More than two hundred Chinese officials, writers and entrepreneurs are in Havana at this moment. More than 2 million books are being exposed in the exposition and being sold to the population. A cultural gala will start tomorrow (refers to February 3 – the Editor) in the most prestigious theatre, Alicia Alonso Theatre, with the Chinese Gala that will celebrate both the International Book Fair and the Lunar New Year in Havana. A lot of exchanges have been carried out. We have had the national ballet, the contemporary dance in China. We have had painting exhibitions here. In Havana, every year we have a band or a cultural group. In 2018 we expect to bring again the Cuban National Ballet as well as an important painting exhibition that is called “The Longest Trip” which refers to a Chinese phrase saying that the longest trip starts with a small step. In recent years, China has worked hard on poverty alleviation, with the aim of building a moderately prosperous society by 2020. In your opinion, what experiences can be shared between Cuba and China in poverty reduction and in what areas can our two countries cooperate?

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: I believe what China has done is an historic success not only for China but also for humankind. When you consider that in all these years around 700 million of people have come out of poverty, this is something extraordinary. Cuba and China have both been ruled by communist parties, both consider themselves socialist countries and become important references to each other in the area of poverty alleviation.

We consider that, according to our own characteristics, we can consider some of the steps taken by China. At the same time we believe we have some strengths that can be considered for China as well.

We have a very strong educational system, and a very strong health system, a universal health system. So also our life expectancy is around 78.5 years, women a little more than 80 and men a little more than 76. Children – our infant mortality is just 4 out of 10,000, which is one of the lowest in the world. So, those experiences, we can also share. We have been very successful in the area of general practitioners, the family doctor, which is a very strong mechanism to contribute to health in society. As you see, this is just mentioning some of the ideas in which I believe we could exchange. In fact we are doing so, through party forums – seminars in which we exchange our opinion on several topics – and this is for sure one of them. is launching its Belt and Road Initiative website. We would be very much honored if you could say a few words in support of the website.

Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos: I believe it is a very important initiative, particularly because of the spirit of win-win cooperation that is behind it. I believe it is a new way of globalization. It is supporting cooperation. It is not a globalization to benefit a few, but a globalization that can contribute to the development of the third world countries.