Cheers for 50 years of friendship between China and Argentina

Guo Cunhai
Over the past five decades the ties between China and Argentina have withstood the test of a volatile international situation, and developed in a healthy and stable manner.
Guo Cunhai

Argentina was among the first Latin American countries to set up diplomatic relations with China, and over the past five decades the ties have withstood the test of a volatile international situation and have always developed in a healthy and stable manner.

Looking back, one could identify five critical junctures in the relations that are of symbolical significance.

The first is 1972, when, spurred on by the example of Chile, Argentina, after giving up its policy of "ideological frontiers," proposed that Latin American countries should adopt coordinated action favorable to the development of the region.

In light of this vision, the Argentine government explored the possibility of the normalization of relations with China, with the Chinese government responding positively.

After six months of negotiations, the two countries agreed on establishing diplomatic relations on February 19, 1972.

The establishment fully testified to the spirit of pragmatism on both sides, representing the transcendence of past ideological barriers, and the departure from the rigidity of taking sides in light of ideology.

All stages of Sino-Argentine relations have since then been informed by the principle of mutual needs and pragmatic cooperation.

The second juncture is 1990. Some Western countries, led by the US, attempted to subject China to a political blockade and diplomatic isolation. In November that year, the newly elected President Carlos Saúl Menem, advocating the principle of non-interference in China relations, asked his brother Eduardo Menem, provisional president of the Senate, to visit China and invited then Chinese leader Yang Shangkun to visit Argentina.

On May 1990, Yang paid a state visit to Argentina. Six months later, President Menem visited China in return.

For China, the state visits were quite significant in that they effectively frustrated Western attempt to isolate China politically, and the protocol on mutual consultation between the two governments was exemplary. The understanding and support from the Argentine government at this critical time showed the spirit of pragmatism.

On one hand, Argentina, after suffering long years at the hand of hegemony, was yearning for independence, self-determination, and found external interference intolerable. On the other hand, the country was also eager to extricate itself from economic difficulties, and hoped to strengthen relations with China, particularly in the sphere of economic cooperation.

The political mutual trust and understanding between the two countries undoubtedly safeguard this vision.

The third juncture is 2004. After joining the WTO in December 2001, China has been pursuing its "going out" strategy. As the second-largest economy in South America, Argentina boasts abundant resources and huge market potential, evincing strong demand for infrastructure construction.

The country, fresh out of the shadow of financial crisis, was intent on expanding external cooperation and securing financial resources, showing the two countries' strong complementarity and volition for cooperation in economic spheres.

From June to November 2004, then Argentine President Néstor Kirchner and Chinese President Hu Jintao visited each other.

Such frequent high-level interactions were fruitful resulting in the establishment and development of Sino-Argentine Strategic Partnership; Argentina's recognition of China's market economy status; the signing of the memorandum of understanding on trade and investment cooperation; and growing cooperation in infrastructure, housing, energy and agriculture, which translated into fast expanding bilateral investment and trade. The year 2004 was a memorable year providing for rapid development of bilateral economic cooperation for the next decade.

The fourth juncture is 2014. In 2008, the Chinese government issued its first policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, putting forward the strategy and goal with regard to Latin American and Caribbean countries. Against this backdrop, Sino-Argentine relations have registered comprehensive and rapid development.

To consolidate relations with Argentina, in July 2014 Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with his then Argentine counterpart Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires.

The two leaders reached important consensus and came to a unanimous decision to upgrade China-Argentina relations to comprehensive strategic partnership.

The agreements and initiatives inked during the visit – currency swap deal and the first Strategic Dialogue of Economic Cooperation and Coordination – have played a role in building the synergy between the two countries.

Cheers for 50 years of friendship between China and Argentina

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) meets with his Argentine counterpart Alberto Fernandez in Beijing on February 6 after the opening ceremony of Beijing Winter Olympics.

The fifth juncture is undoubtedly 2022, which is also the Year of China-Argentina Friendship and Cooperation. In spite of the raging pandemic at home and strong pressure from the US, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez firmly presses forward with an independent foreign policy and adamantly opposed any attempt at politicizing the Winter Olympics.

Chinese President Xi met with President Fernandez on February 6 in Beijing after the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, saying that China is willing to advance exchanges and cooperation in various fields and usher in another brilliant 50 years under the comprehensive strategic partnership with Argentina.

It could be safely projected that in the new year of 2022, Sino-Argentine relations will enter a historical stage of development.

Looking back on the five decades, we could say that bilateral ties have been steered by pragmatism as a driving force.

Politically, Argentina is firmly committed to the one-China policy, whereas China reaffirms its support for Argentina's demand for the full exercise of sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands.

Economically, the two countries have seen bilateral trade growing from US$6 million in 1972 to US$14 billion in 2020.

In view of the growth in political and economic ties, one area that still leaves room for development is culture.

As former Argentine Ambassador to China Diego Ramiro Guelar observed, comprehensive partnership should go beyond mere products and money exchange, for smooth economic and trade relations entail mutual trust and cultural understanding.

(The author is a senior research fellow and director of the Center for Argentine Studies, Institute of Latin American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Wan Lixin translated the story.)

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