BEIJING - (AP)—As Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, China was in the throes of an ultimately catastrophic push toward converting all private farms to communes.
Yet while the Cuban leader stuck doggedly to his communist guns, China has given up on such dreams of utopia and transformed a vast, agrarian state into one of the world’s chief market economies.
For the 76-year-old Castro, who last visited China seven years ago, the difference was bewildering.
‘‘I can’t really be sure just now what kind of China I am visiting, because the first time I visited, your country appeared one way and now when I visit it appears another way,’’ Castro said Thursday during a meeting with the leader of China’s legislature, Li Peng.
‘‘You can say that every so often your country undergoes great changes,’’ Castro said.
China and Cuba are two of the last one-party communist states, but the similarity just about ends there.
Cuba muddles on with a planned communist economy still reeling from the loss of Soviet subsidies. Meanwhile, China has become aggressively mercantile, growing into the world’s manufacturing powerhouse.
China and Cuba ran along parallel communist tracks for years after Castro took power. China undertook first the Great Leap, which created a famine that killed an estimated 30 million people, and then the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s convulsive last attempt at perpetuating his revolution.
Their histories began to diverge as China embarked on reforms after Mao’s death in 1976. The planned economy was steadily dismantled, setting the stage for today’s relative prosperity—even while the Communist Party maintained its hold on political power.
The basis of that growth—foreign investment and the emergence of a dynamic private sector—remain largely alien concepts in Castro’s Cuba.
China now provides hundreds of millions of dollars in economic credits to Cuba, as well as some direct aid. Castro’s talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin earlier this week focused on economic ties and concluded with the signing of an economic cooperation agreement and Chinese aid package for Cuba.