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Spain embraces China

By Frederick W. Stakelbeck Jr.
web posted January 23, 2006

Over the past year, China's rapidly expanding economic, political and military influence in the Americas, Asia and the Middle East have threatened to alter existing geostrategic alliances and traditional relationships, causing great concern within the Bush Administration. To the dismay of the White House, Beijing has taken the next step in their quest to secure new global allies, targeting one of Europe's most revered countries -- Spain. Eager to gain favor with Beijing and reap the benefits associated with China's global economic expansionism, Spain's President Luis Zapatero has made China the cornerstone of an evolving foreign policy strategy, promoting bilateral cooperation and exchanges which are expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

Luis Zapatero

Recently, Zapatero has voiced his support for the "One-China" policy and strong opposition to Taiwanese independence -- supporting national reunification instead. In his zest to improve bilateral relations, the Spanish president endorsed the removal of the UN imposed arms embargo against China in early 2005, against U.S. objections. Zapatero has also lobbied his EU counterparts for Chinese WTO market economy status with the hope of an economic windfall. Bilateral trade between the two countries continues to accelerate at a record pace reaching $4 billion in the first five months of 2005. In 2004, trade between the two countries stood at $7.2 billion, up 38 percent from 2003.

In July, Zapatero visited Beijing where he met with high-level Chinese leaders to discuss the expansion of Sino-Spanish relations, noting that Spain desired greater cooperation on international and regional issues such as politics, economics, science and technology. "China, without a doubt, is knocking on the door of world leadership. Spain admires this modern China; this China is becoming a great power in the world," Zapatero said. During his visit, the president signed numerous agreements in the areas of civil aviation, finance, seismological studies and transportation.

While in China, Zapatero witnessed the launch of the Airbus (Beijing) Engineering Centre, the company's second-largest engineering centre outside of Europe. He also oversaw the signing of an agreement for 20 Airbus A330 jets worth $3.1 billion to be delivered to Air China beginning in May 2006.

On the last day of his visit to Beijing, Zapatero attended an energy conference with Chinese vice Premier Zeng Peiyan where the Spanish president was told that China planned to increase its use of renewable energy from 7 percent to 13 percent by 2020. "Spain is one of the top leaders in solar and wind energy technology. The Spanish system to promote renewable energies is being analyzed with interest by Chinese authorities," Zeng Peiyan said.

Spain's growing relationship with communist China under Zapatero's watch should come as no surprise to observers. The seeds of bilateral cooperation were planted many years ago. As a young man growing up in Spain, Zapatero admired China's Mao Tse-tung's agrarian based political system and the Cold War Soviet Union.

An ardent academic researcher, former college professor and former member of Spanish parliament, Zapatero is an intelligent man with enormous enthusiasm for issues he finds important. However, his current China strategy should be carefully evaluated before bilateral relations are strengthened any further. In fact, it would be in the best interest of all of Europe to practice extreme caution when dealing with a rapidly expanding China, eager to make new European friends.

Frederick W. Stakelbeck Jr. is a foreign affairs expert. He can be reached at frederick.stakelbeck@verizon.net.

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