By Cristina Font Haro

Published: Global Times 03/05/2017

Early in April, the Chinese Ambassador to Spain, Lü Fan, visited the Valencia harbor along with a delegation of Chinese businessmen. Among them are representatives from Huawei Spain, Epitisa, China Energy and China Construction Bank Europe. During the tour, Lü announced that China is interested in making Valencia a hub along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

This visit is by no means an isolated case. Many Chinese organizations such as Silk Road International Cultural & Economic Cooperation Organization have long had an interest in the Valencia harbor as where they want to build their Mediterranean headquarters. The organization’s president also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Valencia Chamber of Commerce to further promote cooperation between China, the countries of the Mediterranean basin and other countries along the Silk Road.

What is driving the Chinese interest in Valencia? Actually, this Spanish city has several advantages, which are appealing to the Chinese market. These range from its geostrategic location to close trade relations between the Valencian and the Asian market.

The bilateral trade between the regions has been increasing over the years. In 2016, the number of Valencian companies operating in China doubled that of 2009. Their Chinese counterparts have increased as well, from 6,333 companies in 2009 to 10,454 companies in 2016.

China and Spain have maintained a friendly relationship for decades. As Ambassador Lü said, “Spain is the best friend of China inside the European Union.” Spain’s relations with the People’s Republic of China were formalized on March 9, 1973. Their first bilateral economic agreement was signed in 1984. Since then, 12 more agreements have been signed in various fields such as economic, nuclear energy, scientific cooperation, renewable energy and civil air transport.

Moreover, the high-level officials of both countries have regularly visited their counterparts. In the last few years, Spanish government officials have visited China at least once a year, with a total of seven trips in 2011 alone. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have also paid a stopover visit to Spain in recent years. Last year, during the Xi’s meeting with Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, it was concluded that the Sino-Spanish relations are in their golden era and the two countries agreed to increase their collaboration on common projects.

So how could Spain contribute to the Silk Road?

Before America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Europeans used to think that the end of the world was at the westernmost point of Europe. That is why they called that place “Finisterre,” which comes from Latin, meaning the end of the earth. This place is located in Spain. Hence, with the inclusion of Spain in the Silk Road, the initiative could have its own “Finisterre” on the Eurasian continent.

Currently, due to the already built infrastructure, Spain could be connected to the project both by land and by sea. On the one hand, the train that connects Yiwu with Madrid has already broken the record for the world’s longest railway with 13,000 kilometers.

On the other hand, the harbor of Valencia is already there waiting for China to arrive. This would improve connectivity among China, Europe, and the Mediterranean area as well as their bilateral trade. And it would increase the flow of tourists.

Nevertheless, Spanish economic authorities have already expressed their concern about the equity of economic exchange. For instance, even though the railway that connects the two countries have been there for more than two years, it is mostly used by China, but not by its Spanish counterpart.

As it was discussed on October 9, 2016, during the conference co-organized by the Royal Elcano Institute and the Foundation for the Exchange between Yiwu and Spain, Spanish businessmen are afraid that in the long run, being part of the Silk Road project will not be attractive to countries if they fail to benefit.

It is essential for the Chinese government to come up with a “win-win” policy with the countries along the route.

Source: Global Times


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