Chinese President Kicks Off 4-Country Global Tour in Spain

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left and Spain’s King Felipe pose at the Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul White)

By ARITZ PARRA

MADRID (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in Spain for the first leg of an international tour that is being clouded by souring trade clashes with the United States, the only economy larger than China.

Spain and China are expected to sign around 20 intergovernmental and business agreements on Wednesday, including rules to avoid double-taxation and a deal to export on-the-bone legs of Iberian ham to China. Both countries will also explore joint bids in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications projects in Africa and Latin America, a Spanish top official said.

But the official, who was not authorized to be named, emphasized that Xi and Spain’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, will also upgrade their countries’ “strategic framework relationship” to reflect Beijing’s greater influence in world affairs since the last state visit, in 2005.

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

“In the past 13 years, one of the partners in this bilateral relationship has become more active and assertive internationally,” said Mario Esteban, an expert with Spain’s Royal Elcano Institute, an official think tank. “Spain needs to acknowledge that while positioning itself for opportunities.”

Britain’s departure from the EU also makes Spain attractive to Beijing, Esteban said, as the country is seen as “friendlier” than other European countries.

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

“We hope and believe that Spain will continue to play a positive role in the EU for the sound and steady growth of China-EU relations,” according to a commentary signed by the Chinese president in Spain’s ABC, a conservative daily.

The Spanish government says it will not officially back China’s “One Belt, One Road,” a global multi-billion-dollar infrastructure loan initiative that many developing countries have embraced and that richer countries view with wariness.

Xi arrived Tuesday at a private terminal in Madrid’s airport accompanied by China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, as well as Chinese entrepreneurs and other Communist Party officials.

On Wednesday, he will be welcomed with a lavish ceremony at the Royal Palace in central Madrid and will be treated to a state banquet by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain.

The mayor of Madrid will give Xi the keys of the Spanish capital and the Chinese leader will deliver a speech in the Spanish Senate.

The Chinese delegation is scheduled to fly on Thursday to Buenos Aires, to attend the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in the Argentine capital. Xi’s tour ends on Dec. 5 after stops in Panama and Portugal.

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