Thu, Nov 29, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Xi defends free markets, inks agreements with Spain

EUROPEAN INROADS:Xi promised the Spanish Senate that China would import US$10 trillion in goods over five years and improve intellectual property protections

AP, MADRID

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, are welcomed on arrival in Madrid on Tuesday.

Photo: AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday issued an impassioned defense of free markets’ ability to combat economic uncertainty as he sought allies in Europe.

In a speech to lawmakers in Spain, where he is on a state visit before attending the G20 leaders’ summit in Argentina, Xi said that the world is facing “instability, uncertainty and hot topics without precedents in our history.”

“I think we are at a crossroads,” Xi said. “In economic terms, we need to decide if we are going to follow the economic globalization and free market or if we are going to choose unilateralism and protectionism.”

Xi then called on the international community to unite and find consensus to “defend peace and prosperity in the world.”

Xi and US President Donald Trump are expected to meet for talks over dinner on Saturday in Buenos Aires.

However, Xi’s two-day visit to Spain is presenting the Chinese leader with the opportunity to charm a country that has traditionally avoided confrontation with Beijing.

Spain, which is in the middle of an uneven economic recovery from recession that is showing signs of wearing off, is also keen on getting Chinese contracts for its companies and reciprocal investment.

However, top officials said that Spain would not officially endorse Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The Spanish government said it is instead interested in exploring with China joint projects in third countries, especially in Africa and Latin America.

A top official also said that Xi and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were to upgrade their countries’ “strategic framework relationship” to reflect Beijing’s greater influence in world affairs since the last state visit in 2005.

That move aims to respond to the uncertainty raised by trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, and a stricter EU approach to Chinese investment since the bloc’s parliament approved a new screening scheme to shield strategic sectors in its member states.

Britain’s departure from the EU also makes Spain attractive to Beijing, as the country is seen as “friendlier” than other European countries, said Mario Esteban, an expert with Spain’s Royal Elcano Institute, an official think tank.

Spain and Portugal, for example, were among the countries whose ambassadors did not back a letter by 15 Western diplomats about China’s rights record in Xinjiang.

Xi, who arrived on Tuesday afternoon in Madrid, yesterday reviewed Spain’s guard of honor with King Felipe VI, as Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛) and Queen Letizia of Spain observed from a platform at the entrance of the Royal Palace in the Spanish capital.

The honors continued in Madrid’s City Hall, where Xi received golden keys to the city, and then at the Spanish Senate, where Xi said that China wants to provide wider access to foreign products, importing US$10 trillion in goods over the next five years.

“We will make efforts to streamline access to our market, improve the investment climate, increase intellectual property protection and voluntarily increase the opening to the exterior,” he said.

Xi was to meet Sanchez later yesterday, when they were to preside over the signing of about 20 government and business agreements, including a deal to export on-the-bone legs of Iberian ham to China.

Xi is to fly to Argentina today for tomorrow’s G20 leaders’ summit, after which he is to visit Panama and Portugal.

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