Spanish envoy keen 'to work together to adapt to new times'
Luis Calvo's office is in one of Shanghai's most iconic skyscrapers on the Bund. Traveling daily between his home in Puxi and his office in Pudong, the Spanish consul general sees life coming back to this "vibrant city" as he works to expand the consulate's capacity.
"The only thing that kept me from working in China before was that I didn't speak Chinese," the career diplomat told Shanghai Daily during a recent interview.
Calvo, who arrived in the city in August 2022, has been taking Chinese lessons and is particularly happy when he's understood while speaking Chinese. Getting localized is a key aspect of his job and a necessary part of any foreign posting.
The Spanish envoy has seen Shanghai slowly come back to life from the pandemic with the number of tourist visa applications on the rise, while Spanish people and businesses head back to Shanghai and surrounding areas.
The 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, which is on March 9, is a special occasion, and "we need to inform and spread this information so that people on both sides can see that we've been able to get along for half a century."
"It's important for Chinese and Spanish people to come together and work together," he said. "That is my goal as consul general: to do everything I can to bring societies closer together."
To achieve this, the consul general thinks it important to make people in both countries aware of the historical ties and the huge possibilities for the future.
He cited the example of the Manton de Manila, a silk shawl with embroidery that is "typically Spanish and also typically Chinese" and was traded through the Philippine city hundreds of years ago.
"Many people are unaware that it is from China," he added. "And it is just one of the many things in history that teach us volumes about our trade and collaboration, and how we were able to work together despite our differences and thrive in the process."
Celebrations in Yiwu
On March 9, the diplomat will also celebrate the historic event in Yiwu, which is a trading hub in neighboring Zhejiang Province and where the world's longest rail link begins.
The freight train service between Yiwu and Madrid began in November 2014. On March 9, two special trains will leave both cities at the same time to celebrate trade and friendship between the two countries.
"The rail route does not account for a large percentage of our bilateral trade because it is mostly by sea, but it is very symbolic and significant in a variety of ways," he added.
"It is a symbol of uniting the two countries and peoples," he said. "It enables you to visualize the significance of transportation infrastructure, which is becoming increasingly important in global trade."
The consul general has been busy planning other upcoming events, with the goal of bringing Spanish masterpieces and performances to his jurisdiction this year. He will also visit Lishui, a city in Zhejiang. Most of the Chinese migrants in Spain hail from this city. The diplomat hopes to bring some events to the city to honor the migrants and reinforce links between the two countries.
Chinese tourists were on the rise even before the pandemic. More than 700,000 Chinese tourists visited Spain in 2019, with the majority of them coming from Shanghai. Before the pandemic halted plans, the Spanish consulate had anticipated the growth and was preparing for further expansion.
The delayed expansion is happening now, with the consulate hopefully doubling the size of its staff, especially in its visa section, to accommodate the expected growth.
"We were pleasantly surprised by the quick resumption of tourism last year. Many European and North American tourists have returned (to Spain), and we anticipate that the Chinese tourists will do the same," he said.
"The Chinese have everything they need to become global tourists. They spend twice as much as European tourists, are well-informed, and know exactly what they want."
He went on to say that tourism is important not only for people from both countries to visit and experience each other's culture but also for developing new industries.
As the world faces numerous challenges, China and Spain can collaborate in a variety of fields, including renewable energy, the environment and health, among others.
"We've been working in mutually beneficial ways, and we can work together to adapt to the new times, to be more incisive and competent in confronting new challenges," he concluded.