China, Spain pledge stronger BRI ties against protectionism, unilateralism: experts

China and Spain are cooperating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), yielding positive outcomes, and will continue to leverage the platform to oppose protectionism and unilateralism, Chinese experts said.

The comments came after a joint statement between the two countries during Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-day visit to Spain.

Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of European Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday that Spain has seen opportunities in cooperating with China on BRI.

"Although Spain faces pressure from conservatives who oppose free trade, the two countries' cooperation on BRI will not be interrupted," Zhao said, citing the freight train between China's small commodity hub of Yiwu and Madrid as a typical BRI achievement and an important bridge across Eurasia.

"Trains were not fully loaded when the line was first launched in 2014, but fully-loaded trains now depart every day from China," the research fellow said, while stressing that  Spain has a privileged position on the route.

Boosted by the route, Yiwu's imports from Spain surged 8.82 percent year-on-year to 60 million yuan ($8.6 million) in the first 10 months.

China is Spain's largest trading partner outside the EU, while Spain is the sixth-largest trading partner within the bloc for China. Bilateral trade reached $22.37 billion in the first eight months, up 10.6 percent year-on-year, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times that among EU members, Spain has shown stronger support for the BRI.

Both sides believe the Belt and Road Initiative, as a platform of connectivity, will strengthen economic, trade and investment cooperation in third-party markets.

The two countries also stand ready to build synergy between BRI and related EU strategies, thus offering more mutually beneficial business and investment opportunities to Chinese and Spanish enterprises.

"On Spain's side, such cooperation in the third-party markets such as Africa will alleviate its refugee problem. It would also spark less geopolitical concerns than China-led projects in Europe," Ding said.  

China and Spain can cooperate on clean energy, including wind and tide energy, Zhao said, noting that cultural exchanges should also be strengthened through education, tourism and sports.

"Cooperation with Spain's small and medium enterprises should be given greater consideration," Zhao noted.  

"There are historical and geographic bases for China and Spain to conduct cooperation on the BRI," Xi said during a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.  

Editor: 曹家宁