Cuban President Fidel Castro greeted China’s President Hu Jintao in a wheelchair before the two sides sealed accords that will see major Chinese investment in the island’s nickel industry.
The communist allies held several hours of talks on Monday night after witnessing the signing of 16 economic accords.
Hu was to complete his two day stay in Cuba—capping a four-nation tour of Latin America—by holding talks on Tuesday with Castro’s brother Raul, who is his designated successor, and laying a wreath at the tomb of Cuba’s 19 century independence hero Jose Marti.
The Cuban leader has been recovering from a broken knee since October. Despite having to welcome Hu from a wheelchair at the steps of the government palace, the 78-year-old Castro was dressed in a western business suit and shouted a lively “Viva China!” greeting.
Though communist China has embraced a role in a capitalist global production system, Cuba has not.
Beijing in turn has become a vital economic and political ally for the largely internationally isolated Castro.
“We sincerely wish that the Cuban people march without surrender on the road to building socialism,” the Chinese leader said.
Hu said his “visit will achieve our goal of deepening our friendship and finance out cooperation,” he said.
The economic accords are of crucial importance for Cuba, where the economy has plunged into crisis since the fall of the East Bloc. Castro made it clear before Hu’s arrival that he expected significant investments.
Only two hours after his arrival, Hu and Castro publicly signed 16 cooperation agreements, including one boosting the extraction of nickel from Cuba’s top world reserve estimated at 800 million tonnes.
The agreement calls for building an extraction facility that will produce 22,500 tons of nickel and cobalt per year.
Located in the Cuban province of Holguin, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana, the Las Cariocas plant will boost Cuban nickel production from its current 75,000 tonnes a year to almost 100,000 tonnes, a long-sought goal of the Cuban government.
The plant will be 49 percent owned by China’s Minmetal and 51 percent by Cuba’s Cubaniquel monopoly.
China and Europe are the chief importers of Cuban nickel.
Other agreements signed by Hu and Castro favor the biotechnology, tourism, telecommunications, fishing, education and health sectors.
On the sidelines of the presidential summit, representatives of 37 Chinese and about 60 Cuban companies met Monday to explore bilateral trade opportunities.