Editor’s Note: In the current issue of National Review, we have a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “Thorns and Daggers: The Castros and their allies.” This week on NRO, Nordlinger has expanded the piece into a series. For the first installment, on Cuba and North Korea, go here. For the second, on Cuba and Russia, go here. The series concludes today with Cuba and China.
Like Russia, China is about the business of establishing world leadership. To this end, the Chinese boss, Xi Jinping, conducted his own Latin American tour. Where Vladimir Putin began his in Cuba, Xi ended there. He arrived in Havana ten days after Putin left.
‐In recent decades, Cuba and China have taken somewhat different paths: China has liberalized, economically; the Castros have been pretty good about resisting reform. But China remains a one-party dictatorship with a gulag, just like Cuba. Both states torture dissidents to death. There is ample common ground.
‐Lighting on Cuban soil, Xi said, “I feel that as socialist countries, China and Cuba are intimately united to fight for the same missions, ideals, and goals.”
‐You will recall, from Part I of this series, that Che Guevara swung by North Korea in 1960. Well, on the same trip, he swung by China. Mao gave him $60 million for the Castro dictatorship, saying that it was a “loan” that “does not have to be repaid.”
‐Let me give you a taste of Castro and Communist China in the early days. Actually, let Yinghong Cheng do it. I quote from his “Sino-Cuban Relations during the Early Years of the Castro Regime, 1959-1966” (found here):
On the evening of 18 October 1964, when Wang Youping, the Chinese ambassador to Cuba, was about to leave for the day, the embassy’s reception clerk rushed into the office telling him that Fidel Castro and Emilio Aragones (a member of the secretariat of the Cuban Communist Party) had stopped by. Wang immediately ordered the embassy’s cooks to report for duty and headed to the reception area to greet the visiting dignitaries. Castro smiled and told Wang: “Today is Sunday, and we would like to have Chinese food for dinner.”
According to recently published memoirs by Chinese diplomats who served in Cuba, it was not unusual in the early to mid-1960s for Cuban leaders — Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Raúl Castro, among others — to come to the Chinese embassy without warning (and sometimes even through the back door outside regular business hours) to enjoy Chinese cuisine. Although the Cuban leaders were known for their disdain for “bourgeois formalities,” these unexpected visits caused problems for the embassy cooks, who often had to prepare half-cooked dishes and store them in refrigerators for such contingencies.
The dictator had a refined, or at least a particular, palate:
Fidel Castro was especially fond of northern Chinese dishes such as Beijing duck, and at his request the Chinese government sent two cooks from the famous Beijing Quanjude Duck Restaurant to the Chinese embassy in Havana.
One more tidbit:
After dinner, Castro often stayed until the early morning hours talking incessantly, leaving almost no opportunity for the Chinese to interrupt him or switch topics.
That’s our guy, right? And he certainly liked his comforts, including fine cuisine. Meanwhile, he demanded great sacrifices of the Cuban people, including hunger.
‐Today, China is Cuba’s No. 2 trading partner, after Venezuela (whose leadership reveres the Castros). During his visit to Havana, Xi Jinping inked many more deals than Putin had: 29, to the Russian’s 12. One of the Cuban-Chinese deals was for the development of golf courses in Cuba. The young Fidel effectively banned golf, calling it a “bourgeois” pursuit.
But listen: One of his sons, Antonio, not only plays golf but is said to be a champion.
When it comes to dictatorships, though, you can never be completely sure. According to Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il had eleven holes-in-one in his very first round of golf, carding a score of 38 for 18 holes, or 34 under par — something Bobby Jones never dreamed of. Neither did Nicklaus or Woods.
‐Like Putin, Xi signed a deal on oil. The Chinese, in common with the Russians, will be exploring for oil off Cuban shores.
Fans of the Castros in America tend to be foes of oil. What must they think of this positively Texan enthusiasm?
‐Xi went to one of Fidel’s residences, bearing a gift: a bust of the dictator as a young man. (I mean, a bust of Castro, not Xi.)
‐I will now quote the Chinese foreign ministry, on what Xi said to Castro: “I am very glad to meet with you again, your honored Comrade Fidel. When I visited Cuba in 2011, I called on you and we had a long-time conversation. Today, seeing you hale and vigorous, I feel very pleased. You are the founder of the cause of Cuban revolution and construction, and also the founder of the China-Cuba relationship. You are admired deeply by the Cuban people and have also earned respect from the Chinese people.”
Can you stomach any more? “The purpose of my current visit to Cuba is to inherit and carry forward the China-Cuba traditional friendship jointly established by Comrade Fidel and the older generations of Chinese leaders, so as to inject new impetus into the bilateral friendly and cooperative relations.”
So sweet. And you will want to know what Castro said to Xi in return. Again, the Chinese foreign ministry:
Fidel Castro welcomed Xi Jinping’s visit to Cuba. He said that he cherishes the memory of friendly exchanges with China, and believes that the Cuba-China relations will yield more fruitful results under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Cuban leaders. Fidel Castro expressed that the international pattern is now undergoing profound changes, and the group rise of emerging market countries and numerous developing countries exerts significant and far-reaching influence over the world. China is a great country, and China’s development will definitely play an important role in promoting the world peace and development.
Uh-huh. And you will want to know about an important agricultural moment — a moment agricultural, personal, and international, all three:
Fidel Castro invited Xi Jinping to visit the courtyard and the farm. Seeing the seeds of moringa oleifera and mulberry presented by China have grown into trees with luxuriant foliage, both people were very happy. Fidel Castro told Xi Jinping that the cultivation of moringa oleifera and mulberry is being promoted in Cuba, which helps to solve the problems of grain supply and livestock feed. Xi Jinping said that I have specially brought more seeds of moringa oleifera and mulberry this time and hope they will thrive and become a new manifestation of the China-Cuba friendship.
I know that you are practically weeping. Keep your hankie out:
At parting, Xi Jinping said to Fidel Castro that your 88th birthday is coming in a few days and I wish you a long, healthy and happy life. Fidel Castro asked Xi Jinping to convey his good wishes to the Chinese people, wishing China prosperity and strength and the Chinese people happiness and wellbeing.
(The above-quoted Chinese foreign-ministry report is found here.)
‐For his part, Raúl Castro, the frontman dictator, sized up the world at large. China, Russia, and others, he said, were building “a new international order.”
‐If this order is new, it has aspects of the old. Birds of a feather are flocking together, as they tend to do at all levels of life.
At the beginning of this series, I quoted J. William Fulbright, the Arkansas senator, speaking in 1961. He said, “The Castro regime is a thorn in the flesh, but it is not a dagger in the heart.” That was before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet the statement has long applied — applied to U.S. national security, that is: For Cubans, the Castro regime has very much been a dagger in the heart, or a boot stomping on the face, or a bullet to the head.
Cubans have lived with their dagger, and we Americans have lived with our thorn, for 55 years and counting. It would be nice to knock the dagger aside, and to pluck the thorn out.