Exclusive with Ambassador: China and Portugal share a global and future-oriented vision



“China and Portugal have been developing bilateral ties steadily, quickly and healthily, and their pragmatic collaborations have achieved fruitful successes,” summarized China's ambassador to Portugal, Zhao Bentang, on the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, celebrated on February 8th.


On the occasion, the senior diplomat gave an interview to the China Media Group, thoroughly analyzed the substantial achievements of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Portugal, and outlined a future full of new dynamics for this long-standing bond. Check out the full text of the interview:


1.  In the context of complex and profound changes in the international situation, the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Portugal has gained new connotations. Especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Portugal in 2018, the two countries have been further consolidating their long-standing intertwined relations. Could you, Mr. Ambassador, update us on the results of China-Portugal cooperation? Did these interactions live up to expectations on the Chinese side?

In December 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a historic and successful visit to Portugal, achieving fruitful results and pushing the China-Portugal comprehensive strategic partnership into a new phase of development. In April of the following year, the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was invited to participate in the 2nd “One Belt and One Road” Forum for International Cooperation and paid a state visit to China.  The exchange of visits between the two heads of state in less than half a year fully reflects the high level of progress in bilateral relations and pointed the direction for the development of the China-Portugal comprehensive strategic partnership in the new era.


Last year, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng and the Chief Executive of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR), Ho Iat-Seng, successfully visited Portugal, further deepening pragmatic cooperation between the two countries in all domains. We are very pleased to see that since China and Portugal established cooperation in the “One Belt and One Road” Initiative, under the attention and impetus of the leaders of the two nations, as well as the joint efforts of the two peoples, bilateral ties have been developing steadily, quickly and healthily, and pragmatic collaboration has achieved fruitful successes.


Economic, commercial, and investment cooperation is booming. The latest data shows that, between January and November 2023, the total volume of China-Portugal trade amounted to US$7.938 billion. China has maintained its position as Portugal's largest trading partner in Asia for consecutive years. According to Portuguese statistics; China's direct investment stock in Portugal reached 3.473 billion euros, covering energy, finance, insurance, medicine, and other fields. Conversely, Portugal's investment in China is also growing steadily. By intensifying traditional cooperation, both sides have been extending the partnership to new areas, such as the digital economy, environmental protection, and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, Portugal is also the first country in the European Union (EU) to formally establish a “blue partnership” with China. Both parties have long coastlines and rich marine resources, making them natural partners in the development of the maritime economy, full of broad prospects for cooperation.


Bilateral cooperation in the financial sector is growing. The Sino-Portuguese collaboration is pioneering and plays a positive role as a model for promoting contacts between China and the EU. The Portuguese government has completed the issuance of the first batch of Panda Bonds worth 2 billion yuan, becoming the first country in the eurozone to sell debt in renminbi. Portugal is also the first European country to issue UnionPay cards through its financial institutions. The Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the FOSUN Group, and several Chinese institutions, such as Banco Bisen and China Tianying, have invested in Portugal's banking and insurance sector.


Third-party market cooperation is flourishing. China and Portugal have gained good economic and social benefits in their respective countries through mutual investment, while transcending the bilateral scope and achieving fruitful results in the joint development of third-party markets in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and other regions. The Three Gorges Corporation of China, together with the EDP Group (Energias de Portugal), won bids for hydroelectric and wind energy projects in Brazil, Poland, Italy, the United Kingdom, Peru, Colombia, and other countries. The State Grid Corporation of China helped the Portuguese company REN (Redes Energéticas Nacionais) to open the door to the Chilean power transmission market. China Communication Construction Company and the Mota-Engil Group from Portugal jointly obtained tenders for several infrastructure projects in Africa and Latin America. It can be said that third-party market cooperation is a highlight of the China-Portugal comprehensive strategic partnership, especially bilateral pragmatic collaboration.


Interpersonal and cultural exchanges continue to deepen. Deep friendship between people is the key and driving force for good relations between countries. Over recent times, the Chinese government has been optimizing visa policies and other measures to facilitate the flow of people between China and Portugal. Sino-Portuguese cooperation in the area of language and culture is progressing rapidly, experiencing a "Portuguese language fever" in China and a "Mandarin fever" in Portugal. More than 40 Chinese universities offer Portuguese language courses and in Portugal, there are five Confucius Institutes. The Lu Ban Workshop, jointly organized by higher education institutions from both countries, took Chinese technology to the westernmost cape of the European continent, making the Chinese artisanal spirit reach the world. Every day more young people become participants, heirs, and promoters of pragmatic Sino-Portuguese cooperation, which injects continuous and positive contributions to the deepening of interpersonal and cultural exchange and to promoting the construction of a community with a shared future for all humanity.


Practice says it all. The "One Belt and One Road" Initiative is in line with the trend of the times and satisfies the two countries' aspirations for win-win cooperation and all-round development. We sincerely hope that with our joint efforts, China and Portugal will continue to expand the scale of trade, deepen cooperation in science and technology, education, culture, and other fields based on existing results, and expand tripartite and multi-party cooperation in global markets, thus boosting the high-quality joint construction of the "One Belt and One Road" by China and Portugal, to benefit both peoples.



2. After taking office, the Ambassador has been very active in promoting exchanges and mutual understanding between the two peoples. In the Portuguese media, you provided good information about Chinese policies and trade and investment opportunities. Here, we would also like to hear how you see Portugal. About bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common interest, how does China position Sino-Portuguese relations?
In the three years since I arrived in Portugal to take on the role, I already knew the five continental regions and the two autonomous island regions of the country. From my visits, I fully realized that Portugal is a friendly, inclusive, and culturally diverse country. Football star Cristiano Ronaldo and melodious fado are applauded around the world. The classic works of writers such as Luís de Camões, Fernando Pessoa, and José Saramago have been widely known.

Portugal has good social security, complete infrastructure, a solid judicial system, and a high degree of commercialization, which makes the country a suitable place for investment for many international companies, including Chinese companies seeking global markets. In recent years, a variety of Portuguese specialties, such as Port and Madeira wines, beer, cork products, black pork, and many other high-quality products, have been gaining more attention from Chinese consumers.



In terms of bilateral relations, China and Portugal have a solid political and public opinion base. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, the two States have adhered to the principles of mutual understanding, mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutually beneficial cooperation. Persistence in open and frank dialogue and increased mutual understanding have created a favorable atmosphere for bilateral and multilateral cooperation between China and Portugal, as well as between China and the European Union. The Portuguese side has given firm support to China on issues related to fundamental interests and main concerns, and China, in turn, also attaches high importance to the positive role played by Portugal in the European Union and on the world stage.


The world today is not peaceful. The hegemonic practices of Western powers have caused serious damage. The world economy has been recovering weakly as a result of the proliferation of arguments such as "high walls in a small backyard", "supply chain decoupling" and "de-risking". As a responsible great country, China has defended justice amid global turbulence and taken action at critical moments, for which Portugal has expressed its high appreciation and recognition.


Despite different social systems and historical backgrounds, China and Portugal share a global vision and are prepared for the future. They strongly support multilateralism, oppose unilateralism, and advocate free trade rather than protectionism. The two countries maintained close communication and coordination on relevant regional issues, especially the crisis in Ukraine and the Palestine-Israel conflict, playing a constructive role in promoting peace and resolving differences through dialogue.


In the 2024 New Year's message, Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated that "peace and development remain the main themes, while win-win cooperation is evergreen in any situation.” Faced with the changes the world is going through, strengthening international solidarity and promoting peace and development are the common and firm objectives of China and Portugal. It is believed that both sides will continue to move forward shoulder to shoulder, jointly safeguarding the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order based on International Law, maintaining its close communication and coordination in bilateral and multilateral matters and acting as defenders of world peace and promoters of global development.



3. In various multilateral frameworks, China and Portugal have positively coordinated and contributed to boosting Asia-Europe connectivity and world peace and development. From this new starting point, what potential does China-Portugal cooperation have in the future?
Not long ago, the Central Conference on Work Related to Foreign Affairs of the Communist Party of China was held, which clearly defined the construction of a community with a shared future for humanity as a noble objective to pursue in the new era of major diplomacy. a country with Chinese characteristics.


Now, the Chinese people are energetically embarking on the new journey of building a strong country and national revitalization, while the Portuguese people are also facing the important tasks of ensuring people's livelihoods and improving the economic structure. The deepening of mutual political trust between China and Portugal and the increasingly dynamic cultural and people-to-people exchanges have laid a solid foundation for the two countries to consolidate practical cooperation in various fields, such as economy, trade, and culture.


Both China's development planning and Portugal's Economic Recovery Plan place emphasis on scientific and technological innovation and green development, providing favorable conditions for both sides to explore new development opportunities. China's new development concept is also highly compatible with Portugal's economic and energy transformation strategy. And, at the same time, the two countries are quite complementary in technology, with a huge space for cooperation in emerging industries, such as the blue economy and new energies, as well as broad prospects for partnership in the areas of e-commerce, electric vehicles, among others.


An ancient Chinese proverb says: “Neither mountains nor rivers can separate those who have the same aspiration.” Although China and Portugal are located on the eastern and western extremes of the Eurasian continent, their geographical distance does not impede the pace of deepening cooperation between them. I believe that under the guidance of the leaders of the two countries and friendly exchanges between people, China and Portugal will further explore the potential of partnership, continue to expand tripartite or multi-party cooperation in the market, create more new dynamics in bilateral relations, and will take their pragmatic cooperation in various fields under the "One Belt and One Road" to a higher level.


China Radio International