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Sino-Spanish ties highlight friendship, achievements

By Marcelo Munoz | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-02-06 09:23
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationships between Spain and China, and the relations can be summarized in three points: friendship, achieved objectives and pending tasks.

I make this summary as a direct witness, and in part, as a modest protagonist. My own relationship with China began as an entrepreneur in 1978, with the first Spanish company and one of the first European companies in China. Since then, over the past 45 years, I have worked in China doing business, and I have studied its history, its economy and its policies, being one of the few Westerners who have experienced China's profound and rapid transformation over that period close up and from inside.

From this background I will summarize Spain-China relations.

Spain and China do not have any political or territorial disputes, as Spain did not participate in the historical aggression of Western powers against China. The Chinese and Spanish empires were the two great world powers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Spanish galleons went from China to the Philippines, Mexico and Spain, maintaining trade on the most important sea route of the time as part of the historic Silk Road. The Spanish silver coin, or real, was the international currency at that time, and it was the main payment instrument for the acquisition of Chinese products by the West.

Friendly and commercial relations between the two peoples have characterized their relations over the past 50 years via commercial exchanges, countless official visits and tourism.

Bilateral trade has increased from $12 million in 1973 to about $48.4 billion in 2021. Furthermore, 6,000 Spanish companies trade with China, many of them with offices or investment in the country; 1 million Chinese tourists visited Spain each year before the COVID-19 pandemic; technological exchanges have grown exponentially; and exchanges of business visits have multiplied.

At the same time, political relations have been strengthened by mutual high-level visits, including the 1978 visit to China by King Juan Carlos of Spain, and President Xi Jinping's visit to Spain in 2018.

The participation of Spain and China in G20 summits, as well as the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the Boao Forum and many other multilateral institutions, has united the two nations in the attempt to improve global governance.

The two nations are ambitious in their friendship because of the great, untapped potential of bilateral cooperation. Spain can and must make important leaps in its relationship and dialogue with China.

First, the Spanish government, Spanish Parliament and political parties should open themselves to a deeper knowledge of today's China and its weight in the world. Debates, forums and meetings with Chinese partners are needed to overcome the stereotypes, prejudices and misgivings about China that persist.

Second, trade, investment, joint research and student exchanges must reach a level that corresponds to Spain being the 12th industrial power in the world and one of the major countries of the European Union.

Third, with Spain being a world power in tourism and China being the largest source of international tourists, reviving tourism after the pandemic will require special attention from Spain.

Spain must also join the Belt and Road Initiative and persuade its European partners to do so as well, even if Washington does not like it. In particular, Spain and its government must contribute to making its Mediterranean ports of Barcelona, Valencia and Algeciras authentic global terminals of the Pacific-Indo-Mediterranean maritime route of the new Silk Road project.

The Spanish government should support the construction in Algeciras, due to the port's strategic location, of a global logistics hub for the distribution of products and exchanges for the whole of Europe and Africa, anticipating the global connectivity that the Silk Road will promote between the Eurasian road network and an African road network. This is an ambitious but very achievable goal.

Those pending objectives can serve as a road map to raise political, academic and business relations to a much higher level between China and Spain in the next decades of the 21st century, which will undoubtedly be the century of China.

The author is founder and chairman emeritus of Catedra China, which promotes knowledge and dialogue between Spain and China.

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