Sabino Vaca Narvaja, Argentina's Ambassador to China (WANG BOWEN)
As part of the celebrations for 50 years of bilateral diplomatic relations, President of Argentina Alberto Fernández will make a state visit to China in February, attending the opening of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 and officially announcing Argentina's participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. In an interview with China Hoy, a Spanish monthly published by CICG Americas, Ambassador Sabino Vaca Narvaja speaks not only about the current relationship between the two countries, but also about the opportunities that will open up after the presidential visit. Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
China Hoy: China and Argentina established diplomatic relations on February 19, 1972, in a world very different from the one we live in now. What do you think has been the greatest success over these five decades?
Sabino Vaca Narvaja: Regarding bilateral relations, I believe that "continuity" is something very valuable. Prior to the beginning of diplomatic relations, there had already been contact, for example, between the current ruling party of Argentina, Peronism, and the Communist Party of China. In fact, there were letters from Juan Perón to Chairman Mao Zedong. In 1973, Perón sent a delegation to China, headed by his wife Isabel. She was received by Premier Zhou Enlai. Following that visit, every president of Argentina has maintained a strong bond with China.
Looking at the past 15 years, in particular, China has deepened relations with all of Latin America, moving from number six or seven up to second or first trading partner. Currently, China is our second largest trading partner, but it is the No.1 for most of our neighbors: Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Peru. I am positive that in a matter of years, China will eclipse any other country in the import and export volume with Argentina.
We attach great importance to President Fernández's visit, especially because Argentina, from the onset, has strongly supported the Winter Olympics taking place here in China. This will also mark our president's first visit to your country.
The fact Argentina is chairing the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) lends it yet another dimension. CELAC and China share a strong, multilevel network with a boundary-pushing work program which includes the themes of satellite, aerospace, and educational development, among other subjects.
Why did Argentina decide to join the Belt and Road Initiative?
Argentina has 45 million inhabitants, but is able to produce food for 600 million; we currently lack the infrastructure to expand that export capacity. We require a variety of new infrastructure to boost our growth, including energy substructures, transmission lines, bridges, and renewable energy development.
Argentina, Bolivia and Chile are called the "lithium triangle." We have a very strong match to team up with China, which is innovating a lot in the field of electric vehicles and batteries—one of the central components therein being lithium. We are accelerating efforts because Argentina [in October 2021] announced the Sustainable Mobility Law, a series of fiscal benefits and government objectives very much in tune with Chinese President Xi Jinping's thoughts on and commitments to the reduction of carbon emissions in the fight against climate change.
Argentina is also part of the Southern Common Market. I always advise the relationship with China to be on a regional level. We have to think of ourselves as covering Mexico to Argentina, with 400 million Spanish speakers, coordinating our actions to match China's vast scale.
The Belt and Road Initiative now covers many Latin American countries. In our region, we have three very large countries: Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Argentina will be the first of those three to participate in Belt and Road cooperation. The initiative provides access to cheaper financing to promote infrastructure that generates greater global connectivity. It is also part of the idea of a community with a shared future for humanity, formulated, albeit in different manner, by both our presidents.
What are the highlights of bilateral cooperation?
As China and Argentina in 2015 upgraded their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, we feature a mechanism that lists all infrastructure projects between both countries, including the fourth nuclear power plant in our country. This project using China's Hualong [reactor] technology is in smooth progress.
More conventional railway and bridge infrastructure, too, is underway. We have a very long border with Chile and we are working on "bi-oceanic corridors," so that our trade not only goes through the Atlantic, but also through the Pacific.
Then there's the athletic factor, namely joint football training. China has drafted a long-term plan in the football field and we will be announcing the establishment of several Argentine football training academies in China. On a cultural level, then, we most recently inaugurated a tango training and practice institute supported by various Argentine entities.
After the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, I would like to raise the topic of tourism again. China comes with outbound tourism that spends the most on average worldwide; in pre-pandemic times, of course. We will put into practice several strategic undertakings, like this year's inauguration of a direct flight, highlighting the shared code with Chinese airlines, via which we can also promote regional access. Latin America boasts some beautiful scenery and generally the Chinese who come to our region do not just visit one country. That is why I insist on having a regional perspective.
The Argentine Government has expressed its firm support for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics despite the U.S. outcry. Why?
Argentina has always been part of the Olympics. The Olympic Games are always a meeting place for all nationalities. Its spirit of athletic competition, though of individualistic demeanor, presents the collective teamwork behind the victories, achieved by values that radiate throughout humanity. For this reason, we absolutely oppose the politicization of the Games and we have supported them from the very onset. With the visit of President Fernández, that support only becomes stronger.
I tell everyone: China is one of the safest places worldwide because it comes with very strict pandemic control measures, halting any spread of the virus. We are convinced that the Olympic Winter Games will unfold successfully thanks to China's thorough preparations.
An exercise in "futurology." Fifty years from now, how do you see China and Argentina in the world?
Today's world is bursting with change. Vis-à-vis the ideas of some wanting to establish a new cold war, I think everyone has already realized this format is of no use to anyone. Our presidents share this vision of a shared future for humanity and the truth is that if there is anything the pandemic has shown us, it is that if we cannot come out of this by ourselves, we will have to work together.
I believe if we join forces, we can and will solve all these problems linked to development processes. Technology has to serve that purpose, generating a more sustainable world. China is one example here courtesy of its carbon emission reduction practices and its shift to renewable energy via a very interesting process. Argentina is also going along with that process.
Argentina has the largest photovoltaic park in the region. Together with PowerChina, a hydropower, electricity and infrastructure construction company, it also created a hydroelectric dam that is now in the process of completion. Together with the fourth nuclear power plant, they are all about clean energy development.
I want to bring up the issue of lithium once more since I believe that electro-mobility is our future. China has to see Argentina as a regional hub. We have the right environment to lead the process of electric vehicle development in our region.
All in all, I envision a future of good guidance and a political harmony of common prosperity, fulfilling the shared destiny of humanity.