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Chinas President Hu Jintao travels to Cuba on Monday
Hu visited Cuba in 2004 to oversee the signing of 16 cooperation agreements and was expected to sign more on the economy, trade, education and other areas during his two-day stop, the Chinese government said.

Hu, who attended Saturday's Group of 20 global economy summit in Washington, was to stop in Costa Rica on Sunday before starting his two-day visit to Cuba. He will go to Peru later in the week for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, then on to Greece.

Cuba's economy was still suffering from the demise of the Soviet Union during Hu's last visit but has rebounded largely due to integration with oil-rich Venezuela and Chinese loans.

China is now Cuba's largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007 -- four times what it was in 2004 -- despite stark differences in their economic policies and little direct Chinese investment.

China adopted market economics long ago while Cuba still has a Soviet-style command system where more than 90 percent of the economy is in state hands.

The Chinese loans are starting to come due at a time when Cuba has suffered $10 billion in damage from the three recent storms, prices of nickel, its main export, have dropped sharply and oil prices, which sustain ally Venezuela, have declined.

Restructuring those debts and future credits will certainly be on Hu's agenda, western diplomats said.

Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, also visited China before taking over as president in February, while the last three Chinese presidents have come to Cuba.

"Cuba is indispensable for China in its bid to strengthen links with Latin American and the Caribbean countries," the Chinese ambassador to Cuba, Zhao Rongxian Zhao, said of Hu's visit in an interview with China's Xinhua news agency.


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