Xi Jinping sets out to woo investors in Spain, Portugal

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre) look at Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as he signs agreements at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, on Nov 28, 2018.
Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre) look at Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as he signs agreements at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, on Nov 28, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

MADRID • China will widen market access for foreign investors and step up protection of intellectual property rights, Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday during a state visit to Spain.

Mr Xi, who will be travelling on to Argentina to attend the G-20 meeting, which starts tomorrow, also said China planned to import US$10 trillion (S$13.7 trillion) worth of goods over the next five years.

Speaking at the Spanish Upper House of Parliament, Mr Xi said: "China will make efforts to open, even more, its doors to the exterior world, and we will make efforts to streamline access to markets in the areas of investment and protect intellectual property."

Mr Xi has cast himself as a defender of globalisation and an opponent of protectionism, but the United States and European governments say foreign companies still face many hurdles to do business in China.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Xi and his wife, Ms Peng Liyuan, stood side by side with Spain's King Felipe and Queen Letizia in the crisp, Madrid winter sun outside the Royal Palace to receive full military honours from the king's guards.

China and Spain yesterday were to sign an accord on the export of Iberian ham to China, as part of a series of deals to be inked during the state visit.

Spanish exports to China increased last year by 28 per cent to reach €5.7 billion (S$8.9 billion).

China is seeking to strengthen its ties with Spain and Portugal as other European Union members are trying to restrict Chinese investments.

But a Spanish government source said Spain will not sign up to Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, a broad development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving global infrastructure projects.

China is seeking to strengthen its ties with Spain and Portugal as other European Union (EU) members are trying to restrict Chinese investments. Mr Xi will make a stop in neighbouring Portugal from Dec 4 to Dec 5 on his way back from Argentina.

"It's a political manoeuvre to maintain ties at a complicated time for China," said Associate Professor Angel Saz Carranza, the director of the Centre for Global Economy and Geopolitics at Spain's Esade Business School.

The president of Paris-based think-tank Asia Centre, Mr Jean-Francois Di Meglio, said China is looking for the "weak underbelly for Chinese investment in Europe", and consolidate the assets already acquired in the two countries, despite reservations of other EU member states.

He said: "Chinese investments in absolute figures are greater in Britain and Germany, but as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), they are greater in Spain and Portugal."

 

Portugal was especially open to Chinese investment after the 2008 global financial crisis sent its economy into a tailspin. Chinese investment accounted for 3.6 per cent of Portugal's GDP between 2010 and 2016, the highest level in the EU after Finland, according to Esade figures.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2018, with the headline 'Xi sets out to woo investors in Spain, Portugal'. Print Edition | Subscribe