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Thursday, November 24, 2016, 10:15

China's global role grows after Xi's LatAm tour

By Xinhua

China's global role grows after Xi's LatAm tour
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet (R) delivers a speech next to China's President Xi Jinping at La Moneda Palace in Santiago, on Nov 22, 2016. The Chile visit is the last stop on a Latin American tour that has also taken Xi to Ecuador and Peru. (AFP / Claudio Reyes)

SANTIAGO  -- Chinese President Xi Jinping left the Chilean capital of Santiago Wednesday morning after wrapping up his state visits to Ecuador , Peru and Chile, and attendance at the 24th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting in Lima, Peru.

It was the third and fourth time for Xi, respectively, to visit Latin America and attend the APEC meeting since his taking office in 2013, through which analysts see a bigger role of China in regional and global affairs.

COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS

During his week-long trip, President Xi held talks with his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa and Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet, and they decided to lift China's relationship with Ecuador and Chile respectively to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

China's global role grows after Xi's LatAm tour
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa deliver a joint press conference at Carondelet presidential palace in Quito, on Nov 17, 2016. (AFP / Juan Cevallos)

China lift its relationship with Ecuador and Chile respectively to a comprehensive strategic partnership, the highest level in China's diplomatic intimacy with other countries

Xi also met his Peruvian counterpart Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and they agreed to further enhance the comprehensive strategic partnership of the two countries, which was established in 2013.

Although there is no clear definition of the "comprehensive strategic partnership," it is usually regarded the highest level in China's diplomatic intimacy with other countries.

Political willingness and the need for economic cooperation are often two pillars, among others, of the partnership, said Zhang Lili, a professor with China Foreign Affairs University.

Ecuador is an important country in Latin America, said Xi, on the first visit by a Chinese president to Ecuador over the past 36 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Echoing Xi, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa believed that China, as the world's second-largest economy with a high speed of growth, can play a very important role in bolstering Ecuador's development, especially against the backdrop of low oil prices.

In 2015, on Correa's second China visit, he and Xi agreed to elevate the bilateral ties to the level of strategic partnership, only one year before the upgrade to the latest level.

Economic cooperation grew fast as well. China has become Ecuador's third largest trading partner, with two-way trade reaching US$4.1 billion in 2015, quadrupling in just 10 years.

And Ecuador is now a major destination for Chinese investment and financing in Latin America. Chinese investment and financing in Ecuador has exceeded US$10 billion, supporting hundreds of projects including major infrastructure projects such as the Coca Codo Sinclair hydropower plant, seven other hydropower plants and a dozen of highways.

China's global role grows after Xi's LatAm tour
Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, right, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping as he arrives to the government palace in Lima, Peru, Nov 21, 2016. (AP / Martin Mejia)

Situations may vary in Peru and Chile, but the willingness for cooperation is alike.

Peruvian President Kuczynski visited China in September this year, only six weeks after his inauguration, and two months before Xi's visit to Peru.

China and Chile decided to initiate negotiations on upgrading their free trade agreement (FTA)

During Xi's visit to Chile, China and the Latin American country decided to initiate negotiations on upgrading their free trade agreement (FTA) as soon as possible.

The two countries signed their FTA in 2005. Bilateral trade volume has grown four-fold since the FTA went into effect in 2006. China is now Chile's largest trading partner, its largest export destination and the largest buyer of its copper products.

On Tuesday, Chilean President Bachelet also expressed her country's intention of joining the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

China's global role grows after Xi's LatAm tour
(L to R) Philippines' Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski wave during the traditional "family photo" on the final day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit at the Lima Convention Centre in Lima on Nov, 2016. (AFP / Brendan Smialowski)

CHINA-LATAM COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY

While addressing the Peruvian Congress on Monday, Xi called on China and Latin American countries to strengthen dialogue on global issues and boost cooperation on domestic development, in a bid to better build their community of common destiny on a new starting point in history.

The Chinese president also announced that in the next three years, China will increase the number of training opportunities of various kinds for Latin America and the Caribbean to 10,000.

"It was the third time that President Xi has set foot in Latin America since 2013, which shows how much attention he pays to the ties between China and Latin America," Wu Hongying, director of the Latin America office of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

In 2015, the trade volume between China and Latin America reached US$236.5 billion, up more than 20-fold during the past decade, according to Chinese official statistics.

Currently, China is the second-largest trade partner and third-largest investment source country of Latin America, while Latin America is China's seventh-largest trade partner, and important overseas investment destination.

ADVOCACY FOR FREE TRADE AREA OF THE ASIA-PACIFIC

At the APEC CEO summit in Lima, President Xi renewed his call for pushing forward the building of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), saying it is a strategic initiative critical for the long-term prosperity of the Asia-Pacific.

As protectionism and isolationism are on the rise in Europe and North America, China's leadership grows stronger, providing commercial openness, cooperation and multilateralism

"We should firmly pursue the FTAAP as an institutional mechanism for ensuring an open economy in the Asia-Pacific," he told global business leaders, emphasizing openness is the lifeblood of the Asia-Pacific economy.

Once established, the FTAAP, the largest free trade area in the world, can unleash much greater economic vigor than other regional trade arrangements and add an estimated US$2.4 trillion of output to the global economy.

Economic globalization, open economy , regional inter-connectivity, and reform and innovation were key words of Xi's speech, which was encouraging under the current international situation.

As protectionism and isolationism are on the rise in Europe and North America, China's leadership grows stronger, providing commercial openness, cooperation and multilateralism, the leading Chilean newspaper El Mercurio said in its editorial release on Tuesday.

With the future of the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) dims under US President-elect Donald Trump, the alternative Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) occupied the center stage at the APEC meeting in Peru.

The 16-member RCEP, composed of the 10 member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, missed its negotiation deadline last year, but with the uncertainty of TPP, RCEP has regained attention at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting.

Analysts believe that the RCEP will become the main path toward the final realization of a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific.

"We must energize trade and investment to drive growth, make free trade arrangements more open and inclusive and uphold the multilateral trading regime," said the Chinese president.

Xi's proposal was echoed by other APEC leaders, as they reaffirmed their commitment that the FTAAP should be built upon ongoing regional undertakings, and through possible pathways including the TPP and the RCEP.

"We reiterate our commitment to the eventual realization of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific as a major instrument to further deepen APEC's regional economic integration agenda," reads the declaration after the Economic Leaders' Meeting.

"That China's push for FTAAP has won positive response from APEC members shows China's special role in the region, which will also help increase the region's part in global recovery," said Wu.

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