Foreign and Military Affairs

Xi visits 'gateway to Latin America'

Updated: 2011-06-10 07:57

By Chen Weihua and Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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SANTIAGO, Chile / BEIJING - Vice-President Xi Jinping arrived in the Chilean capital early on Thursday to forge closer ties with the nation that has branded itself as China's "gateway to Latin America".

Xi visits 'gateway to Latin America'

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping is greeted by Chilean acting Foreign Minister Fernando Schmidt upon his arrival early on Thursday in Santiago to begin an official visit to Chile. [Xinhua]

Just outside Santiago Airport, a huge billboard for BYD, a Chinese automaker, signals increasing Chinese involvement in the local economy.

Xi was scheduled to meet Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Thursday evening (local time). A slew of bilateral agreements are due to be signed later in the presence of both leaders.

The Chinese vice-president's official visit is at the invitation of Pinera.

China is the largest trading partner of Chile, the world's top copper producer. In 2010, bilateral trade jumped 44.8 percent to $25.83 billion.

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When visiting China in November, Pinera sought to attract Chinese investors to his country, which he said could provide a stable environment for foreign investors.

"It is very important that our country is on his (Xi's) agenda. It's a powerful signal, taking into account that he will only visit four nations on this trip," Matias Mori, executive vice-president of Chile's Foreign Investment Committee, told Xinhua News Agency earlier this week.

Chile is the last leg of Xi's four-nation tour, which has already taken him to Italy, Cuba and Uruguay.

Sun Hongbo, a senior expert on South American studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that apart from robust business cooperation, the importance Beijing and Santiago attach to each other is also due to Chile's strong support for China in the past decades, though Chile is possibly the world's most distant nation from China.

"Chile was the first South American nation to establish diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China," Xi noted in a written speech released after he arrived in Santiago.

Chile was also the first country in South America to recognize China's market economy status and the first to sign a free trade agreement with Beijing, Sun added.

"It is a very unique country in the history of China's diplomacy. The political ties have lasted long and are getting even stronger," Sun said.

China's speedy support for Chile after its 8.8-magnitude earthquake in 2010 was an example of that, he said.

Sun said compared with other South American countries Chile has focused more on relations with Asian nations.

"The country has a strong Asia-Pacific sense," he said.

Chinese Ambassador to Chile Lu Fan said in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday that Chile is an important Latin American country that "plays a unique role in regional issues".

Sun also said Washington's proposed trans-Pacific partnership, a multilateral free trade agreement that aims to integrate the economies of the Asia-Pacific region, is based on changes in Asia but is also influenced by the development of China-Latin America relations.

"The US wants to put China's cooperation with the region seen as Washington's backyard under its control. That is a factor that Beijing has to take into consideration when drawing up its Latin American policies."

On Wednesday, during the third stop of Xi's four-nation visit, Chinese companies signed deals in Uruguay to buy nearly $530 million soy, wool and dairy products.

Bilateral trade with the agricultural country reached $2.63 billion last year, up 69.3 percent over the previous year.

Upon his arrival Xi was greeted at the airport by Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, who previously served as the nation's ambassador to China.

Later, Xi met Uruguay President Jose Mujica and his counterpart Vice-President Danilo Astori, who invited him to the country.

Almagro said that Uruguay considered Xi's visit as one of its most important foreign policy events of the year. He also revealed that Mujica is scheduled to visit China next year.


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