SANTIAGO — Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Chile will greatly benefit the bilateral relationship by bolstering mutual trust and generating new opportunities for pragmatic cooperation, China’s top envoy to Chile said.
The two countries have collaborated closely in recent years as reflected by a series of high-level contacts, Chinese Ambassador to Chile Li Baorong told Xinhua prior to Li’s arrival on May 24.
In July 2014, President Xi Jinping met with his Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet, during a meeting with Latin American leaders in Brazil.
In November 2014, Bachelet attended the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing, where she again met with her Chinese counterpart to discuss the development of bilateral ties.
Other events that have served to bolster the bilateral relationship between China and Chile include several “firsts”, the ambassador said.
Chile was the first South American country to establish diplomatic ties with China and the first to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with China, while China ranks as Chile’s No 1 trade partner, importer and buyer of copper products.
Thanks to the FTA between them, overall trade volume reached $34.1 billion last year, five times greater than before the signing of the pact in 2005, Li said.
The agreement has additionally diversified trade, with an accompanying increase in the number of Chinese automobiles entering the Chilean market. Today, Chinese-made cars account for 15 percent of all cars in circulation, and that figure is on the rise.
Chile, meanwhile, is now China’s leading provider of bulk wine and the third largest supplier of bottled wine. China imports 98 percent of its blueberries from Chile, 80 percent of its cherries and 50 percent of its apples. Moreover, Chile’s non-traditional exports to China, such as agricultural, fishing and forest products, are growing at rates of 30 to 50 percent.
China-Chile cooperation has also led to more Chinese investment in such areas as renewable energy, infrastructure, mining, agriculture and telecommunications.
The China Construction Bank, one of the country’s largest banking institutions, will open its first branch in Chile this year, leading to greater financial cooperation, Li said.
Greater bilateral exchanges can also be seen in the field of culture, with 2015 declared the Year of Chinese Culture in Chile. So far this year, six troupes of Chinese artists have traveled to Chile to give performances, he said.
He said 2016 will be the China-Latin America and the Caribbean Cultural Exchange Year, adding that as part of the celebrations, an exhibition of treasures from China’s Forbidden City will open in Santiago, among other cultural events.
As exchanges between the two countries grow, so does an interest in the Chinese language, with more than 100 volunteer teachers from China currently teaching Mandarin to nearly 5,000 Chilean students. China has also increased the number of scholarships available to Chilean students, and is promoting inter-university cooperation.
To pioneer the study of Mandarin in the region, Chile has been selected as the location of the Regional Center of Confucius Institutes for Latin America, the ambassador said.