China and Spain deepen ties, as leaders meet to strengthen cooperation

Sanchez and President Xi

1st April 2023 – (Beijing) Chinese President Xi Jinping and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met in Beijing on Friday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and Spain. The leaders discussed deepening mutually beneficial cooperation, and Xi emphasised the need for Europe to maintain strategic independence in its relations with China.

Sanchez’s visit to China is the first by a European leader this year and the second since the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago. It is also a good start for a series of upcoming visits to Beijing by European leaders, showing China’s positive attitude towards working with Europe. However, it also serves as a reminder for Europe to walk in the same direction as China.

Over the past 50 years, China and Spain have established a comprehensive strategic partnership through mutual respect, exchange, and dialogue. Xi stated during the meeting that China is ready to work with Spain to use this anniversary as a new starting point for deepening and strengthening cooperation between the two countries.

“The sound development of China-European Union relations requires the EU to uphold strategic independence,” Xi said, adding that China is ready to carry out comprehensive cooperation with the EU in the spirit of independence, mutual respect, mutual benefit, and seeking common ground while shelving differences.

Experts believe that the visit suggests both sides are willing to bring relations to the next level, and the positive political atmosphere will continue. Economic and trade cooperation will remain on a steady growth trajectory.

Sun Keqin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that Xi’s remarks serve as a reminder for Europe to review its stances based on its own interests, rather than blindly following the US.

Spain is willing to maintain candid communication and dialogue with China and enhance mutual trust. Sanchez stated that Spain will commit to promoting dialogue and cooperation between the EU and China during its presidency of the EU in the second half of this year.

The upcoming visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to China together next week may contribute to stronger ties and a more favorable environment for the development of China-EU relations, according to Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies.

Von der Leyen acknowledged that EU-China relations had become “more distant and more difficult” in recent years, but said “it is neither viable – nor in Europe’s interest – to decouple from China.” It is hoped that the stability and progress in China-Spain relations can serve as a positive example for other EU countries as they debate their policies toward China, Cui told the Global Times.

Ahead of his visit to Beijing, Sanchez said the world should listen to China’s voice in order to find a way out of the Ukraine crisis. “China is a global actor, so obviously we must listen to its voice to see if between all of us, we can put an end to this war,” he said during a meeting in Madrid.