By HE Huang Qinguo, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas
As important members of emerging economies and the developing world, Latin American and Caribbean countries play major roles in safeguarding world peace and development. Though far apart from each other, China and Latin America and Caribbean countries have a long history of friendship, dating back to the 16th century - by means of “The Manila Galleon” - when China started trade exchange with Latin America and the Caribbean countries.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and The Republic of Cuba in 1960 started a new era in China-Latin America relations. China has established diplomatic relations with majority countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
For over half a century, the Chinese government has attached great importance to building friendly cooperative relations with Latin American and the Caribbean countries.
In 2008 and 2016, the Chinese government issued two policy papers on Latin America and the Caribbean successively, providing a comprehensive explanation of the new ideas, proposals and initiatives of China’s Latin America and Caribbean policies for the new era.
China-Latin America relations have stood the ordeal of various changes and made substantial progress. As Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “Since the beginning of the new century, China and Latin American and the Caribbean countries, focusing on the theme of common development, have deepened mutual trust in the political field, expanded cooperation in economy and trade, learned from each other in cultural and people-to-people exchanges and coordinated closely in international affairs. This has made it possible for us to make big strides in our relations and set a model for South-South cooperation.”
Firstly, frequent high level exchanges between China and Latin American and the Caribbean countries have deepened political mutual trust constantly.
Since 2013, President Xi Jinping has visited Latin America and the Caribbean three times, visited ten countries, and met with Latin American and the Caribbean countries leaders in bilateral or multilateral occasions, which is unprecedented in the history of China-Latin American relations. Other Chinese leaders have also paid frequent visits to Latin America.
Leaders of Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and The Bahamas have visited China. High-level visits promote mutual understanding and trust, and point the direction for development of bilateral relations. China and Latin America understand and support each other on issues relevant to their core interests and major concern and maintain good communications and coordination on regional and international key issues.
Secondly, practical cooperation has been advanced with mutually beneficial results.
The economies of China and Latin America countries are highly complementary to each other, and have huge potential for cooperation. In 2017, trade between China and Latin American and the Caribbean countries reached $257.85bn, which went up 18.8 percent from 2016.
China has become the second largest trading partner of Latin America while Latin American exports to China increased rapidly. Unique agricultural and marine products from Latin America can be tasted in the restaurants in China, while Chinese brands are becoming popular among Latin-American people.
More and more Chinese companies are viewing Latin America as a promising land, where 2000 businesses have been set up with a total investment of $207.15bn. Chinese enterprises uphold the right approach to justice and interests with a priority to justice, and create millions of jobs for local people and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on environmental protection and public welfare. These Chinese companies are widely welcomed by the local society while they make positive contributions to promoting local economic growth, social development and people’s living standards.
Thirdly, people-to-people exchanges in varied forms have made friendliness between China and Latin America deep-rooted in the hearts of the two peoples.
While visiting Latin America, President Xi Jinping stressed several times the key to sound relations between countries lied in amity between the peoples. With interwoven interests, mutual understanding and friendliness among Chinese and Latin American people have been enhanced.
Thirty nine Confucius Institutes have been set up by China in Latin America so far, and more and more local people are becoming interested in learning Chinese language and culture. During the China-Latin America Cultural Exchanges Year of 2016, a series of colourful cultural exchange activities were held by both sides, in which over six million people participated.
China has listed more than 20 Latin American countries as the tourist destinations for Chinese citizens and direct flight routes have been operated between China and Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Panama etc, which will facilitate more Chinese tourists to travel to the Latin American countries.
Fourthly, the joint efforts of building the “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI) provides new prospects for the China-LAC comprehensive cooperative partnership. In January 2018, a Special Statement on the “Belt and Road” was adopted and published at the Second Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum.
Among Caribbean countries, China has signed Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation within the framework of Belt and Road Initiative with Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda and the Commonwealth of Dominica. The broad consensus on Belt and Road cooperation reached by China and LAC countries, reflects their willingness of deepening cooperation and seeking common development, which will inject powerful energy to the China-LAC cooperation.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the “Belt and Road” initiative. The past five years have witnessed this Initiative producing fruitful outcomes, and China has signed 103 BRI agreements with 88 countries and organisations.
As a natural extension of the 21st Century maritime Silk Road, the LAC region is indispensable to the development of the BRI. China is committed to coordinating its development strategies with LAC countries, and advances pragmatic cooperation with these countries in all fields, including infrastructural construction, production capacity, ecological and environmental protection, as well as culture. China and LAC countries expand common interests based on the BRI thoughts, principles and approaches.
The Bahamas is an important partner of China in Latin America and Caribbean region. Since China and The Bahamas established diplomatic relations 21 years ago, there have been frequent high-level visits from both governments and parliaments, and the mutual political trust of two sides have been deepened.
The trade between China and The Bahamas has increased remarkably and joint projects have been built. Baha Mar opened successfully and attracted a large number of tourists, created thousands of jobs and made significant contribution to the economic growth of The Bahamas.
The Thomas Robinson National Stadium built by China has boosted The Bahamas’ capability in hosting international sports events and other important activities. With China’s concessional loans, the Nassau Airport Expressway and North Abaco Port Project have upgraded the infrastructure level of The Bahamas.
The exchanges and cooperation in fields of education, culture, sports and health have been deepened continuously. China has provided government scholarships for nearly one hundred Bahamian young people and has funded hundreds of Bahamians to attend short-term training and degree programmes in China so far.
The Confucius Institute established jointly by China and the University of The Bahamas, has met the demands of the Bahamian people who wants to learn Chinese and understand China’s culture and history. The Bahamian art groups like Junkanoo troupes performed in China several times and Chinese art troupes also visited The Bahamas. Both of them were warmly welcomed by the peoples respectively.
The past 21 years marks a journey of steady development of China-Bahamas relations, which brings tangible benefits to the two peoples and sets up a model of treating each other as equals and conducting win-win cooperation between developing countries regardless of their sizes.
The Bahamas is well-placed geographically with abundant marine resources, and has unique advantages in terms of tourism and financial services. The Belt and Road Initiative will provide a rare opportunity for enhancing comprehensive cooperation and development between China and The Bahamas. The cooperation between our two countries will certainly enjoy a brighter future.
Firstly, we should further enhance high-level visits and exchanges between our governments, legislatures and political parties, and exchange governance experiences with each other. We should continue to support each other on major issues of common concern and strengthen political mutual trust, which will serve as the foundation of our bilateral relations as always.
The two sides should enhance communication and coordination on issues like global economic governance, climate change and China-CELAC cooperation, so as to jointly build a harmonious and mutually beneficial community of common interests.
Secondly, we should deepen our cooperation in areas such as infrastructure, information technology, tourism, agriculture and new energy, and expand bilateral trade and financial cooperation on the basis of the platform of the BRI. This November, the Chinese government will host the first China International Import Expo. We are glad the government of The Bahamas and the Chamber of Commerce of The Bahamas will participate in the Expo. This Expo will not only facilitate our economic and trade cooperation, but also provide an good opportunity for The Bahamas to demonstrate its national image and advantages on this international platform.
Thirdly, we should deepen people to people exchanges and promote our cooperation in the areas of culture, education, science and technology.
In order to enhance understanding and friendship between the two peoples, the Chinese Government is willing to provide more scholarships and training opportunities to the Bahamians, support exchange and cooperation between think tanks, academic institutions, experts and scholars, and encourage the exchange of visits of cultural, educational and art groups.