Bachelet promotes global view on B&R
Published: May 14, 2017 08:58 PM

Michelle Bachelet Photo: Courtesy of Embassy of Chile in Beijing

Editor's Note:

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (Bachelet) joins other heads of state from 28 countries to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on Sunday and Monday. What significance is it for Chile to take part in the forum? How can Chile benefit from the Belt and Road initiative? Global Times (GT) reporter Bai Yunyi talked to President Bachelet about these issues in an exclusive interview.

GT: What are your considerations for attending this forum? We are curious because Chile was not on the ancient Silk Road. What aspect of the Belt and Road Forum is Chile interested in?

: Participating in the forum is quite important for us, for it is a milestone of China's stronger global position. We believe the Belt and Road initiative very well matches the open trade policy that Chile has been committed to for many years now. It aims at including all countries into the global value chain by promoting infrastructure development, which agrees with Chile's development strategies. It will also usher Chile-China relations into a new phase, no longer limited to the export/import of raw materials but expanding it to new and more areas of partnership.

Chile and Latin America as a whole very much aspire to strengthen their presence in Central Asia, and there is no better opportunity for us than this forum. My attending this forum shows Chile's interest in participating in this grand initiative China has proposed, and highlights the close relationship between Chile and China.

Indeed, Chile was not on the ancient Silk Road. But we would like to play a main role in the "new sea route" across the Pacific Ocean. This "new sea route" includes virtual routes such as digital connectivity, e-commerce and a financial mechanism for currency exchange, as well as traditional maritime, land and air routes. The Chilean Peso-Chinese Yuan exchange mechanism is a case in point. Regional integration has long been the top priority of Chile. Under these circumstances, it is important to project the ancient Silk Road onto our continent and open up new cooperation areas and opportunities.

GT: Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials have said that all countries are welcome to board the train of China's development, either for a fast ride or for a free ride. In your opinion, in which areas can Chile promote its own development by boarding the train of China's development?

: China is now Chile's largest trading partner. In 2016, our trading volume surpassed $31 billion and the number keeps rising. In the past 15 years, Latin America's exports to China have rocketed from $5 billion in 2000 to $104 billion in 2015. So there is no doubt that China's development has brought many benefits to countries it has business and trading ties with.

For a comparatively smaller country like Chile, China is a tempting market, promising all kinds of possibilities. Deepened free trade agreements between Chile and China reaffirm that China will remain in the future Chile's largest global trading partner. Apart from this, we also hope development projects in Chile can attract more Chinese investment. We welcome similar steps to China Construction Bank opening an office in Santiago, capital of Chile. Chile is an outward-looking economy and we long for becoming the converging point of Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

The Free Trade Agreement Chile and China signed 10 years ago has already yielded remarkable benefits. 97 percent of Chilean goods enter China free of duty, and 98 percent Chinese products enjoy zero-duty treatment in Chile. We recently held the second edition of the Chile Week in Guangzhou and Beijing to commemorate signing of the Free Trade Agreement and to further enhance Chile-China trade and investment. Chile hopes to strengthen its presence in more key areas in China, such as education, new technology development, scientific and technological research, space science, agricultural development, mining industry, and renewable energies and so on. These are the areas we attach importance to.

Chile will hold the second China-CELAC ministerial meeting in January 2018. We hope the meeting will further strengthen the ties between Chile and China and facilitate common progress on the path of inclusive and sustainable development.

GT: We know that Chile is among countries that have benefited most from free trade and globalization. We also see, however, a rise of protectionism worldwide recently. How do you view this phenomenon? Do you feel pessimistic about the prospect of globalization?

: Chile's diplomatic and foreign relations policies always adhere to these principles: the respect of international law, upholding peace, democracy and human rights, promoting the free market and rejecting protectionism, and the responsibility to cooperate with other nations and agencies to meet international challenges, in particular to improve the living conditions of peoples and protect the environment, with clear and temporary goals such as 2030 Agenda.

The international situation is now facing some uncertainties, which means that all countries should make concerted efforts and necessary improvements in order to get back in the right track of progress. Chile has always been committed to practicing this faithfully, be it bilaterally, regionally or at multi-lateral level.

Today, we face the biggest threats from trade protectionism than ever before. I believe that, at the moment, the most important thing is to create more and better trade opportunities and to encourage investment in infrastructure through enhancing cooperation and integration. This is for more trading exchange and diversity. We also need to keep improving rules and expanding market access. There should be less selfishness, less self-centeredness and a stronger spirit of cooperation.

I believe President Xi shares my opinions. We talked about this while he visited Chile last year, and I feel that this Belt and Road Forum also seeks to address this issue. State leaders from different regions will gather here to hold fruitful high-level discussions about regional and global connectivity projects and how we should collaborate.

Chile has always been a champion for a more open and inclusive foreign trade. We, like China, intend to set up some mechanisms to promote economic globalization. That is why we have signed 26 Free Trade Agreements and many investment promotion agreements with 64 countries. The 2004 APEC summit proposed to establish a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific which Chile fully supported, for it will allow free flow of commodity, services and people within the region.

There are no other dangers facing globalization more obvious than the threat of trade protectionism. It will deviate the international community far away from cooperation. In the face of this setting, China integrates with the world by massively producing commodities and providing services, and the results are astoundingly great. This example inspires countries like Chile to adopt a mode of cooperation and coordination in producing and exchanging commodities and services. It also forms a positive power of influence as a successful paradigm of openness and market integration.

GT: After the US announced it would withdraw from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the signatory countries of the TPP gathered in Chile in March to discuss economic integration. How do you view the future of TPP? What role will Chile play in a TPP without the participation of the US? Do you look forward to seeing China join the TPP?

: With the backdrop of a slow recovery of global economy and rising protectionism, we think that the opening-up of markets and regional economic integration is more important than ever. Through the TPP, a balance can be reached between free flow of commodity, service, investment and protecting countries by holding autonomy in some sensitive areas. The TPP has set a high standard for opening up the market and  strengthening economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region, including putting forward a whole set of high standard rules and principles concerning environment, employment, e-commerce, anti-corruption and transparency and so on.

On March 14 and 15, in the city of Vi?a Del Mar, Chile, representatives from 12 signatory countries of TPP, plus China and South Korea, exchanged their views on the Asia-Pacific economic and trade integration initiative and how it will contribute to the world trade in the 21st century. Participants stressed the benefits of building a rule-based global trade system and the contribution of trade to creating jobs.

As for the future of TPP, member states agreed at the Vi?a Del Mar meeting to consider various alternatives, in order to continue advancing toward an integration based on parts of the TPP agreement. For Chile, these alternatives include bilateral, regional and multilateral ones. As China is an important trading partner of Latin American countries, we would like to see it join the regional integration process.

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