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European Union

China and Spain oppose protectionism as Xi Jinping touts belt and road plan

  • After talks in Madrid, two sides say they will promote market opening, remove trade barriers and support ‘rules-based multilateral system’
  • Spain acknowledges potential of China’s new Silk Road but has yet to sign up
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 9:58pm

China and Spain restated their opposition to protectionism and unilateralism on Wednesday amid tensions with the US, while Madrid acknowledged the potential of Beijing’s new Silk Road but stopped short of endorsing it.

In a joint statement released after talks between Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Madrid, China and Spain also said they would promote market opening, eliminate trade barriers, and support a “rules-based multilateral trading system”.

“The two sides are willing to enhance cooperation through bilateral dialogue in international organisations including the United Nations, the Group of 20, the Asia-Europe Meeting and the World Trade Organisation, amid efforts to promote multilateralism based on the international law and universally recognised norms governing international relations,” the statement said.

It added they would “remain committed to building an open, balanced and inclusive global economy that is in accordance with the WTO rules”.

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Xi arrived in Spain on Tuesday for a two-day visit – the first to the European country by a Chinese head of state in 13 years. His next stop is Argentina for the G20 leaders’ summit that begins on Friday in Buenos Aires, where he will meet US President Donald Trump for talks on the trade war that has been raging between the two countries since July.

In Madrid on Wednesday, Xi touted Beijing’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative”, telling Sanchez there were “multiple advantages” for China and Spain to cooperate under the framework.

The sprawling plan has been around since 2013 and aims to create modern-day Silk Road trading routes linking China with Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond through railway, road, port and other projects.

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Spain agreed the initiative was “an important solution to boosting global cooperation” and said it would tap its potential in third-party markets, but the country has yet to sign up to the scheme.

So far more than 100 countries have signed memorandums of understanding with China on the belt and road plan, including some Eastern and Central European nations – but no developed Western countries are formally on board.

Concerns have been raised over the lack of transparency and quality standards, and “debt trap” diplomacy where developing countries may have to relinquish control of key assets such as ports if they cannot repay the huge Chinese loans funding infrastructure projects.

Cui Hongjian, head of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said countries such as Germany had been quick to criticise the initiative yet were trying hard to boost economic ties with China, adding that its possible benefits were being overlooked.

“Countries in southern Europe such as Spain and Portugal have great potential in the China market and they should be making use of the Belt and Road Initiative more wisely and more proactively,” Cui said.

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China and Spain signed 18 cooperation agreements during Xi’s visit, including one on football exchanges – the Chinese president is known to be a big football fan. Xi will travel to Panama and Portugal after the G20 and talks in Argentina.