By Carlos Blasco Villa
As it is widely known, political relations between China and Spain are excellent. There are no disputes between the two countries and their respective viewpoints on many international issues have reached a broad consensus.
Nevertheless, bilateral relations in some fields most notably in the economic one have not reached a level of development that corresponds to their potential, and there is still insufficient mutual understanding.
Thus, to provide the friendly relationship between Spain and China with deeper content and to make Spain better known to the Chinese people, the 2007 Year of Spain in China will kick off in Beijing in mid-March, as the two governments agreed during the state visit of President Hu Jintao to Spain in November 2005.
The activities planned for the Year of Spain in China will present all sectors of Spanish life to the Chinese. Top on the agenda is the Spanish government's objective for Spain, the eighth largest economy in the world in terms of GDP volume (around US$1.2 billion in 2006, equal to about half the Chinese GDP).
The king and queen of Spain will make a state visit to China in the middle of this year, bringing with them a splendid exhibition from the Prado Museum, probably one of the most important art galleries in the world.
Besides sports and business, there will be cultural events featuring sculpture, ballet, flamenco dance, modern theater and film festivals (with the participation of the Spanish Institute Cervantes in Beijing).
Through the wide array of programs, we hope that Spain will be seen as a modern and developed country with an impressive tradition of welfare policies that reach the entire population, as well as a serious and reliable commercial partner in possession of cutting-edge technology, and as a democratic, free and open society. Our country is one of the world's favorite tourist destinations due to its beautiful scenic spots, warm climate, gastronomy, folklore, friendly people and ancient cultural heritage.
In addition, to increase mutual understanding between the Spanish and Chinese peoples, we need to work to strengthen the strategic partnership between our two nations, which has a comprehensive meaning and covers all fields of activity. For instance, the presence of Spanish enterprises in China should be facilitated, along with facilitating Chinese enterprises in Spain.
Enhancing the bilateral strategic partnership can also be achieved by establishing joint ventures and common businesses. These ventures would take advantage of the facilities and possibilities for growth in both countries, as well as cooperating in third markets where enterprises of either country have prominent positions, such as Latin America, Europe and the US in the case of Spanish companies and Asia and Africa in the case of Chinese ones.
At present, Spain only has about 450 companies operating at different levels in China. This figure must notably increase for the Spanish business network in China to be comparable to those of other foreign countries with similar economies.
For this reason, business contacts will be strengthened through the Spain-China Forum, the Spain-China Investment Forum and the Chinese Youth Business Leaders Visit to Spain program, where we will arrange a series of seminars, business meetings and exchange meetings for a better understanding of the social and economic agents of our two countries.
There is also the 2005-07 Plan for the Comprehensive Development of the Market (China Plan) currently taking place, with a budget of 710 million euros (US$931 million) to boost the development of commerce, investment and tourism between both countries.
It is still too early to talk about the fruitful results of a plan that has only been recently implemented and is currently being carried out. And it will depend on the skills of the Chinese and Spanish authorities to involve our respective social and business agents.
I have noticed that Spanish companies are willing to take advantage of the opportunities that the Chinese market offers. During the months that I have been leading the Spanish Embassy, I have witnessed an increasing and unprecedented number of Spanish companies visiting this country.
The above-mentioned plan and the celebration of the Year of Spain in China will surely strengthen these possibilities. Since campaigns will increase to promote visits to Spain, we are sure that a better understanding of Spain by Chinese tourists will lead them to choose Spain as a holiday destination.
The plan will also boost Spanish investment in China, which to date is relatively poor. There are already very good examples of the sort, though not in the framework of this plan. They include BBVA, a Spanish bank with a wide network of offices in Europe, Latin America and the US, and Telefnica, our most powerful company in the telecommunications sector, with a strong presence in markets such as Latin America.
The reasons for which the Spanish government has paid special attention to the Chinese market are more than obvious: It is the biggest market in the world, although not the largest world economy, and its potential is evident. Spanish businessmen cannot miss such an important market, so the Spanish government has fulfilled its responsibility of facilitating their expansion in what will undoubtedly be the biggest consumer market in the world in the near future.
By enhancing our own Special Agreement of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China, we are contributing to the comprehensive strategic partnership between the European Union and China by creating more confidence and understanding between both nations.
It is widely known that the authority for negotiation on this partnership agreement corresponds to the EU and not to its member states, but Spain contributes by taking constructive stances at the EU internal meetings where decisions are taken on negotiating positions.
Spain is fully aware of the efforts made by China to come closer to international market economy standards. We are also aware of the difficulties that this implies, since our country went through a similar process not long ago. For this reason, we hope that China will be able to appreciate this friendly posture and strive to give Spanish businesses the right presence in its market, enjoying the confidence of the Chinese government at all levels.
We are convinced that our bilateral efforts will serve to successfully create the updated Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between China and the EU, carrying it out in the framework of the EU.
It is clear that such an agreement, one much more valuable than the simple and currently existing commercial agreement, will help to enhance cooperation between the EU as a whole and China and, of course, between the individual EU member states and China. It is most likely that one will lead to the other.
The agreement will allow us to discuss important issues such as climate change, environmental protection, energy policies, renewable and non-polluting energy, contagious diseases, problems of population movements, and the like, sectors in which Spain is already positioning itself in the Chinese market through its businesses.
There are good reasons for all the above points I have made. It is quite clear that both China and Spain have points in common as well as differences.
In regard to the latter, I think that the most obvious one is the difference in size and population. On the one hand we are talking about a country of about 10 million square kilometers with a population of over 1.3 billion, and on the other, about a rather small country with only half a million square kilometers and a population of 45 million people.
But I think that both nations are highly energetic and have an enterprising spirit combined with a deep sense of national and cultural dignity, as well as ancient cultural traditions.
They have both been economic and political world powers in the past (Spain was one of the most maybe the most powerful state during the 16th and 17th centuries) and have experienced in the last few centuries a period of political and social prostration.
Another point in common is their successful emergence in the last few decades. Our two nations can share the experiences concerning these transitions from economic and social decline to the current success.
I should also mention Spain's experience in evolving from a closed economy to an open one, which might be very practical, since the Chinese economy is now going through the same process of opening up, although obviously every country has to find its own particular way which relates to its specific characteristics, absent anywhere else.
The Spanish political transition of the last 25 years has obtained worldwide recognition, due to fact that it has been carried out in a peaceful and harmonious way, and thus it is possible to draw some useful lessons out of it.
All in all, I hope the activities of the Year of Spain in China will progressively continue our bilateral relations and further promote Spain's global reality in the following years, taking advantage as well of the favorable circumstances brought to us by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2010 Shanghai Expo.
His Exellency Carlos Blasco Villa is Spanish ambassador to China.
(China Daily March 7, 2007)