In good and difficult times
SONG CHEN/CHINA DAILY
As a civil engineer and businessman, I had the opportunity to get to know China for the first time in the 1990s, and as a result I have been able to see and learn first-hand about the huge economic, social, political and cultural transformations of this great nation. I firmly believe that the speed and depth of these transformations is unparalleled.
In the 1990s, China still had a very low per capita income of about $318. I was deeply impressed by the spirit of hard work of the Chinese people.
What attracted me was the enormous potential for food consumption of China's huge population. I continued to visit this great nation, attracted by the enormous consumption potential of more than 1.1 billion inhabitants in 1990 and the enormous economic, social and political changes of those years.
In 1997, I was elected president of the fruit producers association Fedefruta and we established a demonstration fruit farm in Jixian county in Tianjin, 68 kilometers from Beijing. Now, it is 23 years old and the longest-running bilateral technological cooperation project between Chile and China. Today, the farm produces cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, walnuts and Chilean blueberries; it has a five-star hotel; and it has the pavilion that represented Chile in the Expo Shanghai 2010 and several attractions for Chinese visitors, which has encouraged the Chinese government to carry out a similar project in Chile.
China and Chile have long-standing relations. Chile established its first consulate in China in 1865.Later, in 1920, Chile opened a second consulate in Beijing. China, for its part, opened a commercial office in Santiago in 1922. The first trade agreement with China dates from 1933 on the subject of nitrate. In 1952, Chilean Nobel Prize for literature winner Pablo Neruda opened the Chinese Cultural Institute in Santiago, culminating with the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1970, making Chile the first country in South America to recognize the People's Republic of China.
In 2005, I was appointed president of the National Society of Agriculture, the oldest trade union in Chile. Along with my work as president of Fedefruta, I traveled to Beijing for the negotiations on the free trade agreement with China, on behalf of the Chilean agricultural sector. The FTA has been one of the most successful agreements of Chile with China. From 2006, when it began to operate, to 2019, it contributed to a growth in bilateral trade of more than 4.5 times. The FTA was modernized and upgraded in 2019 with the incorporation of e-commerce, services and investment, which we hope will be a new cycle of great development in our bilateral relationship.
In 2010, I had the privilege of being appointed the ambassador of Chile to China, and again in 2018, having the fortune to observe firsthand the profound and innovative changes occurring in this country as it eradicated absolute poverty and established a large "moderately prosperous society".
During my first term as ambassador from 2010 to 2014, I was able to see China's great economic achievements from Beijing. In that period, China surpassed Japan to become the second-largest economy in the world. Around the same time, China became Chile's largest trading partner, rising from 10th in just a few years. There were many high-level exchange visits, starting with the visits of the presidents of the two countries and followed by various exchanges of high-level political figures. During these rounds of visits, many trade, development and cooperation agreements were signed in various areas, including education, culture, science and technology. At the same time, we opened a new consulate general in Guangzhou; various arrangements were made at the agricultural farm; and the first student and faculty exchange agreements were established between various Chilean and Chinese universities. In addition, we also took the time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries.
My second term as ambassador from 2018 has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of adversity and hardship come the noblest feelings of solidarity and help among human beings. Those were difficult times, when we set out to obtain medical supplies for Chile, such as ventilators, masks, protective suits, polymerase chain reaction tests, thermometers and other materials that were in short supply throughout the world. During the health campaign we organized, which we called "China helps Chile", more than 200 companies, businessmen, citizen, governmental organizations, universities and centers of traditional Chinese medicine cooperated to send more than eight planes full of medical supplies helping to save many lives in Chile.
Later came the agreements with Chinese pharmaceutical institutions (Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino) for vaccines. For a large part of 2021, more than 70 percent of the vaccines used in Chile came from China, and today it is with great satisfaction that we have welcomed Sinovac's vaccine production plant and a research center in Chile. We have to thank the Chinese government, Chinese businessmen and the multiple Chinese institutions that helped us to save many lives, and to solve the situation little by little.
Notwithstanding the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we carried out multiple activities, including the state visit of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to Beijing and Shenzhen, Guangdong province, as well as the Second Silk Road Forum, the China International Import Expo, his participation in the Boao Forum for Asia and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Chile and China.
Regarding our bilateral economic relationship, I would like to highlight that even during the pandemic, bilateral trade between the two countries experienced an increase. In 2020, our bilateral trade grew by 12 percent, strongly helping the flagging Chilean economy. The year 2021 was much more spectacular, witnessing bilateral trade to grow by 49 percent over the previous year and reach an incredible volume of $61 billion.
My diplomatic mission in China, where I have twice had the privilege of being ambassador of Chile to China, is coming to an end. I have spent more than a quarter of my life in Beijing, so I consider it my second home, where I have many friends, and where I have been able to recognize and appreciate the development of this great country. I will always be grateful to China, so I extend my sincere thanks to all the authorities, companies and friends who facilitated my work and taught me to know a little more about this beautiful nation. I do not say goodbye, but see you soon, as I am sure I will be back again very soon as a businessman to do my usual business with China.
The author is Chile's ambassador to China.The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.