Cuban ruler Raul Castro's peculiarly long flight to China - at least two days, compared to commercial flights that take about one day - has unleashed speculation about a secret stop en route.
Chinese and Cuban officials signed eight agreements after a meeting Thursday between Castro and Chinese President Hu Jintao, including two memoranda that call for donations and interest-free Beijing loans to Havana.
But neither side commented on why the Cuban visitor took so long to arrive in China or made any mention of any stopovers on his way from Havana to Beijing.
The newspaper Granma, official voice of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba, reported Monday that Castro took off from Havana on Sunday for a state visit to China and Vietnam but did not give the exact time of his departure.
China's news media reported that he landed in Beijing on Wednesday, indicating that he spent at least two days en route. U.S. commercial flights from Miami to Beijing, with one stopover, take a little more than 24 hours.
"Where was he?" Havana dissident Martha Beatriz Roque asked in a column. If he did make a stopover somewhere en route, she added, it must have been, like so many other things in Cuba, "a state secret."
Senior Cuban government officials usually try to keep their activities under tight wraps. Former ruler Fidel Castro, for instance, has never revealed the exact nature of the medical emergency that forced him to surrender power to brother Raul in 2006.
No Cuban, Chinese nor Vietnamese news media, all largely state-controlled, have published precise dates for Castro's swing through the two countries - his first visit to them as head of the island's government.
Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper reported in 2007 that Castro made a private visit to the Argentario golf resort in Tuscany, apparently as part of a visit to the Sicilian family of Paulo Titolo, his daughter Mariela's husband.
"Almost every year, Raul arrives incognito in Italy to spend several days with his Italian relatives and three grandchildren, and later departs. The trips are private, cloaked in secrecy and seldom communicated to the authorities," the newspaper added.
The report detailed his one-hour visit to the Argentario resort, "looking impeccable in a civilian tropical suit" and accompanied by four Cuban bodyguards and two Italian pilots of his helicopter.
The Cuban ruler is scheduled to meet Friday with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as well as the two younger officials scheduled to replace Hu and Wen next year, Vice President Xi Jinping and Deputy Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Castro visited China twice when he was defense minister, in 1997 and 2005.