Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Costa Rica on Sunday for trade talks, as Beijing boosts its profile in a region long considered America’s backyard.
During his visit to Costa Rica – the only country that has diplomatic relations with the Asian giant in Central America, where most countries align with Tawain – the Chinese leader will meet his counterpart Laura Chinchilla, as well as lawmakers and other officials.
He and his wife Peng Liyuan, a soprano singer who has stolen the spotlight during the trip, will later travel to a rural village near the capital before attending a gala dinner hosted by Chinchilla.
Xi arrived in Costa Rica after a three-day stop in oil-rich, English-speaking Trinidad and Tobago, the first by a Chinese president. US Vice-President Joe Biden had visited Port of Spain just days before for a summit with Caribbean basin leaders.
The Chinese president focused on trade and energy issues in talks with Caribbean leaders.
“What I found so impressive in the president of China is that he treated the leaders of small Caribbean nations no differently to how he would treat the president of United States” or Britain’s leader, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie said.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller expressed hope that “something happens, something positive, for our region” after Biden and Xi’s visits.
China’s growing interest in the region is “very constructive,” said Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
“It’s a signal to us in the Caribbean that China has been taking us seriously, they have responded to the solidarity we have express them, particularly in the one China policy.”
While all of these Caribbean countries, along with Trinidad and Tobago, recognise Beijing, five other Caribbean nations have forged diplomatic relations with self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The two split in 1949 after a civil war.
Christie also made a pitch for increasing tourism from China, and spoke to Xi about the need for direct flights to the Bahamas and relaxing visa requirements for tourists.
“China is an excellent place to look for tourists,” said Christie, who said tourism was “the most effective and quickest way to generate economic activity.”
Xi also met with the leaders of Suriname, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Barbados.
Separately, Chinese Politburo member Guo Jinlong was on an official visit to nearby Cuba, an island that Xi was not scheduled to visit.
China signed seven agreements with Cuba to increase bilateral cooperation on trade, transportation, tourism and biotechnology, state media reported.
China, one of Cuba’s main political allies, is the communist island’s second most important trade partner after Venezuela, and one of its main sources of credit.
Xi pledged to boost assistance to Caribbean nations, including sending 100 medical staff to the Caribbean region, training 100 part-time postgraduate students and providing government scholarships for 1,000 students.
He then wrapped up his Caribbean visit and headed to Costa Rica, ahead of visits to North American neighbours Mexico and the United States.
US President Barack Obama will hold an informal summit with Xi on Friday in Rancho Mirage, California, the first since the Chinese leader took office in March.