London (CNSNews.com) - Chinese President Jiang Zemin is on a state visit to Cuba, a country Beijing strongly identifies with as having its "just struggle" challenged by "interference and threat" from outside.
Jiang's second visit to Havana comes just days before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva considers its verdict on the human rights records of the two communist countries, along with several others.
Human rights advocates earlier this week denounced the policies of China and Cuba, and predicted that social and political change would eventually come to both.
Beijing's official Xinhua press agency quoted Jiang as saying upon landing in Havana that he was delighted to visit Cuba as a guest of President Fidel Castro.
Describing Cuba as "a shining pearl in the Caribbean Sea," the Chinese leader commended its "unique culture and its heroic chapters in maintaining state sovereignty and national independence," the agency reported.
Jiang noted that Cuba was the first Latin American nation to establish diplomatic ties with China, 41 years ago.
"The Chinese government attaches importance to its ties with Cuba, supports the just struggle of Cuba in maintaining state sovereignty and national independence and opposing against outside interference and threat," it quoted Jiang as saying.
In a statement released ahead of the visit, Human Rights Watch denounced China and Cuba for their human rights records.
Jiang and Castro had more in common than trade and economic interests, said the organization's Americas Division director, Jose Miguel Vivanco.
"Their human rights policies and governing practices are bankrupt in the eyes of the rest of the world," he said.
HRW accused China and Cuba of restricting freedom of expression and detaining political opponents. They also shared a poor record when it came to religious freedom.
Mike Jendrzejczyk of the organization's Asia Division said Jiang would find in Castro a "sympathetic ear ... someone with a distressingly similar agenda on human rights."
"It is time for both Cuba and China to take concrete steps to move into the 21st century. Although Jiang and Castro may hug each other at the Havana airport, their embrace can't ultimately prevent social and political change in both societies," he said.
The UNCHR is next week due to consider resolutions condemning human rights abuses in both China and Cuba. Both countries are voting members of the 53-member Commission.
Cuba is Jiang's second last stop on a Latin American tour that has continued during the standoff over the U.S. Navy spy plane grounded at Hainan. Its crew flew home Thursday.
Having already taken in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, the tour ends in Venezuela next Tuesday.
Chinese Leader Visiting Cuba (April 12, 2001)
China-U.S. Clash Looms Over U.N. Rights Summit (March 19, 2001)