A primary school student in Aveiro, Portugal presents her paper-folding work at a Chinese class on November 21. (Xinhua)
As Portugal receives the first state visit from a Chinese head of state in eight years, Chinese analysts predicted that the European country is highly likely to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with China to boost ties and expand cooperation.
President Xi Jinping arrived in Lisbon, capital of Portugal, on Tuesday for a two-day visit.
It is Xi's first visit to Portugal since he took office as Chinese president, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.
The day before Xi arrived, a signed article by Xi headlined "A Friendship across Time and Space, A Partnership for the Future" was published in Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias.
In the article, Xi wrote that as Portugal lies at an important intersection of the land and maritime silk roads, China and Portugal are naturally positioned to cooperate under the BRI, according to Xinhua.
Chinese analysts said on Tuesday that Portuguese businesspeople and politicians have expressed their willingness for their country to join the China-proposed BRI, and Xi's visit is fully expected to make that happen with the signing of an MOU.
State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also said in May that the Chinese side is willing to negotiate and sign an MOU on the BRI with Portugal as soon as possible during a meeting with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal, according to the website of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Zhang Bei, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the BRI, as win-win cooperation for both countries, was needed for Portugal, which lacks economic structural diversity.
"The possible signing of an MOU with Portugal would have significant meaning for the promotion of the BRI in South Europe, which would be an example for more European countries to join BRI," Zhang said.
It's not an easy decision for Portugal to sign the MOU on the BRI as the country will face huge pressure from the European Union, said Wang Yiwei, a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing.
Portugal has realized that cooperation with China is crucial for the country's development, Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday.
In August, EU member Greece become the first developed country to sign an MOU on joining the China-proposed initiative, after the EU criticized the country for its trade relations with China and blasted the initiative as Beijing's move to pursue "domestic political goals," international news site wionews.com reported on August 28.
Portugal's advanced shipping, port trade and infrastructure will be highlighted in its BRI cooperation with China, Zhang said.
China is likely to invest in the Port of Sines in Portugal, with strategic importance attached to a Europe-China land-sea express line that may extend to even Africa and South America, Wang said.
In explaining Portugal's role in the Belt and Road Initiative, Virginia Trigo, a professor emeritus at the University of Lisbon, said that Portugal has well-equipped deep-water ports close to airport and railway facilities that allow products to be transported throughout Europe, Xinhua reported on Monday.
China and Portugal established diplomatic relations in 1979. In 2005, they elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Bilateral trade in 2017 was worth $5.58 billion, Xinhua reported.
Many Chinese companies including Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corp and Fosun invested in Portugal years ago, and Portugal is one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Chinese analysts said.
Wang said that a large amount of Chinese investment that poured into Portugal has helped it walk out of the European debt crisis.