Premier Li Keqiang's string of "firsts"
Sultan M Hali


Chinese Premier Li Keqiang scored a series of "firsts". He delivered his maiden address to the 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA) session involving representatives from 193 UN members, held the first annual dialogue between a Chinese premier and a Canadian prime minister and conducted the first official visit to Cuba by a Chinese premier in 56 years since the two countries established diplomatic ties.

Speaking during the general debate at UNGA on September 21, 2016, Premier Li called for joint efforts to address sustainable development and global challenges. Last year Chinese President Xi Jinping, while addressing the 70th session of UNGA, presented a number of measures and promises in support of the multilateral organization, while Premier Li gave an update on the implementation of these measures and promises. Li presented Chinese solutions to various global challenges and discussed a wide range of global issues including sustainable development, the implementation of the Paris Climate Pact, terrorism and the anti-globalization trend, among others. Against such a backdrop and in a year which marks the 45th anniversary of transferring China's seat in the UN to the government of the People's Republic of China, Li's first appearance at the General Assembly drew intensive global attention. His packed itinerary in the UN included, besides his UNGA address, attending a symposium on 2030 sustainable development agenda, two meetings on refugee issues and several bilateral meetings. His New York tour also displayed China's outlook for China-U.S. relations while assuring the world of China's determination to maintain steady economic growth and seek greater integration with the global economy. During his UN meetings, Li pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help solve the most pressing challenges facing the world from refugee and migration issues to the fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. On the sidelines of the conferences, Li met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and held talks with leaders of the United States, France, New Zealand and Pakistan. The topics of the talks ranged from the issue of development and climate change to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, China's continuous support for the United Nations, its Charter, and its role in international affairs and safeguarding world peace and development. The global economic recovery and China's engagement with other countries through the Belt and Road Initiative were also discussed. The Chinese premier also availed of the opportunity to interact with American business circles, prominent personalities and media, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The next port of call for the Chinese Premier was Ottawa, the capital of Canada, the first visit by a Chinese premier to "the country of maple leaf" in 13 years. Premier Li and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau held the successful inaugural meeting of an annual PM dialogue between the two countries marking an important epoch in the strategic Sino-Canadian relationship. The annual dialogue is a mechanism established in the end of August 2016, when the duo met in Beijing. Their exchange of visits in less than a month is a sign of "fast warming" bilateral relations, according to a number of analysts. Li wrapped up the visit to Canada with a string of promising outcomes. The Chinese and Canadian sides issued a joint statement in Ottawa listing 29 important agreements. They announced the goal of doubling bilateral trade by 2025 based on 2015 statistics. hina and Canada acknowledged the interconnected nature of the two economies and the untapped potential of the China-Canada economic and commercial relationship, and agreed to launch exploratory discussions for a possible China-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA). "Signing an FTA with Canada will be a challenge for China as it will have to bear greater pressure than the developed countries," Li said at a business forum in Montreal. "However, China is willing to engage in FTA talks with Canada to press the low-end domestic enterprises to move up the ladder," he reassured. The two governments also agreed to cooperate in third-party markets in order to encourage and support enterprises of both countries to pursue opportunities in those markets. Li welcomed Canada's participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This initiative of Canada to respond positively to the Chinese invitation is in the best interests of both countries to jointly make bigger the cake of win-win cooperation between them. China is Canada's second largest trading partner, source of imports and market of exports. Their economies are highly complemented, with huge potential to be tapped in sectors particularly of high-tech, agriculture, energy resources as well as third party cooperation. There was a soft side to the visit, when during his stay in the North American country, Li visited the renowned Canadian ice hockey team Montreal Canadiens, and dropped the first puck at a training match. Accompanied by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Li traveled to the Bell Centre, where the two leaders were briefed about the history of the club, which was founded in 1909 and has won 24 National Hockey League championships. Li said he was pleased to experience Canada's national sport together with Trudeau in Wrapping up his Canadian sojourn, Li headed towards Havana. This was the first official visit to Cuba by a Chinese premier, in which the two countries signed more than 20 cooperation agreements covering a wide range of areas. It is widely believed that the trip has helped boost economic cooperation between Havana and Beijing and promote the Cuba-China comprehensive strategic partnership, while turning a new page in the relations between the two traditionally friendly nations after they established diplomatic ties 56 years ago. The meeting between Cuban President Raul Castro and Premier Li at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana brought about a pledge from Li to further promote bilateral ties through further high-level exchanges and boosting economic cooperation.
Hailing the progress made in relations, Li reiterated that China has firmly adhered to the policy of friendly ties, supported Cuba in following a socialist path and promoted bilateral pragmatic cooperation.
A firm reassurance by Li that China stands ready to deepen economic ties and work closely with Cuba on international affairs so as to push forward bilateral ties was highly welcomed by his hosts.
While his stay at New York was more of diplomatic overtures, Li's visits to Canada and Cuba further strengthened bilateral ties between Beijing, Ottawa and Havana. Trudeau rightfully expressed the belief that a strengthened bilateral relationship will bring new opportunities for Canadian enterprises and for Chinese companies to expand business in Canada.
Trudeau's observation that overall, China is doing clever work in building a multipole economic and diplomatic framework featuring positive interaction, mutual benefit and win-win result, through cooperation in different fields and with different focuses with such developed powers as Germany, France and Canada, sums up the important visit.
China is Cuba's second largest trading partner, while Cuba is China's largest trading partner in the Caribbean region. Cuba's manufacturing sector and infrastructure, which are relatively under-developed, are in need of China's machines, equipment and technical staff. Industrial capacity cooperation between the two countries enjoys big potential.
It is heartening to observe Chinese leadership reaching out to various parts of the world as well as participating in global humanitarian projects like aiding the refugees, addressing migration issues, resolving health problems and other problems facing humanity.