Xi’ visit to Spain packs enormous potential as Belt and Road prospects look bright

By Cristina Font

Published: Global Times 28/11/2018

Chinese President Xi Jinping has an agenda full of state visits this week, culminating in the G20 summit in Argentina on December 1. He is expected to meet US President Donald Trump to discuss China-US tensions triggered by the trade war and security rows in the region. 

Preceding the G20 summit, President Xi is visiting Spain, where he was received by Royal Majesties Felipe VI and Letizia on Tuesday and attended a gala dinner at the Royal Palace. He is also scheduled to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and another, collectively, with the presidents of both legislative chambers, Ana Pastor Julian and Pio Garcia Escudero.

China-Spain relations turned 45 years old in 2018. However, both countries discovered their mutual existence much earlier. In 1572, Martin de Rada, an Augustinian friar, wrote a letter to the Castilian royal court about the existence of a vast, rich and highly populated country called China. At that time, due to the Philippines being at the core of Spanish interest, they were not drawn to establishing ties with China. 

During the Spanish dictatorship (1939-75), the anti-communist General Franco and Chang Kai-shek established friendly ties. In 1952, relations between both countries officially resumed, which was, from a strategic perspective, very beneficial: even though the UN banned Spain from its membership, they still had the support of one of the members of the Security Council. 

The restoration of relations between the Chinese mainland and the United States brought about a change in the international paradigm. In 1973, Spain and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic ties.

Spain’s friendship with China may not be old, but it is still strong. In the last few decades, both countries have achieved a set of milestones. At the end of the 1980s, when relations between China and much of Europe soured, Spain stood by Beijing and then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms. The Spanish socialist prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez, decided to maintain relations. As a further proof of the friendship, then foreign minister Francisco Fernandez Ordonez and King Juan Carlos I of Spain made visits to China. On the other hand, Juan Antonio Samaranch, as the former president of the International Olympic Committee, managed to resolve the dispute between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan with the island being called “Chinese Taipei.” It was this name that was questioned in the Taiwanese referendum a few days ago.

At the end of the 1970s, Icotecto and Alsa were the two pioneering Spanish companies in the Chinese market. Nowadays, around 600 Spanish firms are operational in China, mostly small companies but also multinationals such as Inditex (Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear, Bershka, Oysho, Uterqüe, Lefties, and Stradivarius), Mango, Telefónica, Santander, BBVA and La Caixa. The companies have extended their reach through Chinese e-market platforms such as Tmall. 

Trade relations between Spain and China have persistently been positive. Recently, it has consolidated a positive trend with Spanish imports quadrupling between 2005 and 2017, from around 1.5 billion euros ($1.69 billion) to 6.2 billion euros. In spite of this, Spain still has a long way to go as its trade deficit with China stood at about 19.4 billion euros in 2017, equivalent to 78 percent of the total Spanish deficit. More positively, Chinese investment in Spain grew from less than 10 million euros per year before 2012 to more than 1.6 billion euros in 2016 in areas like agriculture, hospitality, and real state.   

The time has come to move one step forward in China-Spain ties and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers an enabling environment for this. Yet, it is more likely that the new Spanish prime minister will address Xi’s visits with more skepticism than his predecessor. Initially, Sanchez’s position seemed to be in line with that of Brussels. Even so, Spain has already shown its interest in the initiative through its participation in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation organized in Beijing in 2017 and by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member. 

BRI offers great opportunities, but there is also the need of designing a strategy for the effective participation of Spanish companies. This week, Sanchez and Xi have the chance to work hand in hand for global governance and integration. 

Source: Global Times


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