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Chile looking to cement bilateral ties
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When she sets foot on Chinese soil this week, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will start off a stay many will see as more historically significant than the usual state visit.

Bachelet will be the first woman head of state from South America to visit China and the first Latin American president to speak at the Boao Forum for Asia, a three-day meeting for Asian governments, think tanks and enterprises that starts today in Hainan province.

Her visit will also include the signing of a groundbreaking deal to boost the economic ties between Chile and China.

"President Bachelet will sign a supplementary agreement on trade in services under the bilateral free trade agreement, adding a new dimension in trade flows between both countries," Chilean Ambassador to China Fernando Reyes Matta told China Daily during a recent interview.

Bilateral relations between the two countries have been smooth since 1970, when Chile became the first country in South America to establish diplomatic ties with China, he said.

The latest trade deal - the first of its kind between China and a Latin American country - is a follow-up of an agreement the two sides endorsed in 2005, which brought a 78 percent increase in bilateral trade last year and made China Chile's top trade partner.

"The agreement will cover a broad area, ranging from business, communication, construction, environment and tourism to transportation services," Reyes Matta said.

The move will also help break the dominance of the copper trade over the economic ties between Chile and China - the world's top copper producer and largest consumer - by opening the gateway to the service sector, he added.

Despite Chile's relatively small population of 15 million, the country has rich experience to share with China in fields ranging from social security to medical care, he said.

For example, after 25 years, Chile's pension management scheme has matured - especially in personal account management - and is ready to share its expertise with China's ongoing social security reform, he said.

The Chilean president's visit will also help the Chinese branch of CODELCO, a Chilean State-owned copper company and the sector's largest worldwide, to collaborate with China on mineral exploitation, smelting and services, he said.

Similarly, the two governments will sign a series of agricultural protocols to facilitate fruit exports and agricultural cooperation in the next three years. China is also set to extend the lease of a 20-hectare farm in Hebei province to Chile.

"We planted about 5,000 fruit trees there, all imported from Chile, and implemented our best irrigation technology," said Reyes Matta, adding that they also plan to build a hotel in the area to accommodate Chinese experts. "If you want to visit Chile, come to Hebei. There is a mini-Chile 20 km away from Beijing," he said.

This is not Bachelet's first visit to China. In 2004, she took her first close look at the country as Chile's defense minister.

"Chileans have now come to the conclusion that our advancement in the 21st century will be determined by our relations with Asia, in particular with China," Reyes Matta said.

That is why President Bachelet is attaching so much importance to her speech at the Boao Forum, where other foreign leaders like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt are attending.

Apart from meetings with top Chinese leadership, another highlight of Bachelet's agenda is her speech at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Friday.

The speech will focus on "social cohesion", a strategic goal of the Chilean government and similar to China's pursuit of a "harmonious society", he said.

(China Daily April 8, 2008)

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