What and Why is China Learning from Cuban Socialism?

Jim / Wikimedia Commons / CC-by-2.0

The survival of the Cuban party-state has been a subject of interest to many Chinese observers. For decades, Chinese leaders and scholars alike have marveled at how the island—with its limited size and stunted economy—has managed to subsist at the doorstep of a hostile superpower, and even weather the collapse of its economic patron, the Soviet Union.

Motivated by the belief that there is wisdom to be gleaned from their Caribbean comrades, some Chinese observers have taken this fascination beyond casual interest and turned it into a pragmatic pursuit. Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Zhu Jiamu’s 2007 article, aptly titled “Why Has Cuba’s Socialist Regime Been Able to Endure?,” is illustrative of Chinese observers’ search for the reasons behind Cuban socialism’s continued survival, and its purported “lessons” for China.

China’s curiosity is present throughout its intellectual ecosystem, where it is visible in the work of academic institutions, establishment think tanks, and even some media outlets. The analysis produced by Chinese observers in these institutions consistently highlights the work of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the Cuban social welfare system as some key factors explaining the continued existence of the Cuban socialist system, and as possible learning opportunities for Chinese socialism. While causal links between Chinese observers’ analysis of Cuba and Chinese policy outcomes remain hard to establish, this analysis may still have an ideological function, as it allows China to measure itself according to a socialist standard that does not directly challenge the state’s socialist ideology.