Friday, November 8, 2013

Are China and Spain such different?

During her journey to China, the general secretary of the Spanish People's Party María Dolores de Cospedal signed a Memorandum of Understanding with some representatives of the Chinese Communist Party. The signature of such an agreement took place in China's eastern city of Suzhou, near Shanghai, as part of a trip whose aims were to promote the Spanish region of Castilla La-Mancha (which is ruled by Cospedal) and to attract Chinese tourists and investors to Spain. Thus the trade between both countries will be increased alongside the collaboration between both parties and different corporations. But is this excellent relationship between them something new? How can two such different political parties strengthen their ties?
Such an understanding between those Spanish and Chinese political parties is not new despite the seeming ideological differences. In fact, diplomatic relations between both countries were established in 1973, when Franco and Mao were still ruling. This was a complicated period for both countries, which were awaiting important changes within their borders and in their international relations. Regarding Spain, the last years of Franco's dictatorship were caracterized by a crisis due to the economic situation and the opposition against his regime. In addition, ETA would murder the person who was supposed to be Franco's right hand, Luis Carrero Blanco, at the end of that year. Thus Francoism would collapse after the dictator died two years later, although the next head of the State (king Juan Carlos, who still holds the position) would be appointed by him. In the case of China, the country was involved in one of the harshest periods of its recent history: the Cultural Revolution. It would lead to a brutal repression of those who were considered "anti-maoists" and intellectuals, whilst the Red Guards (mostly young people, lots of them still teenagers) began a cruel attack against everything which could be related to culture such as books, religious temples and examples of Chinese cultural heritage.
Being both countries involved in such a complex national scenario, other factors were playing a key role in international politics. The Cold War had not still finished and the United States sought new alliances to isolate the Soviet Union, a country with which China had broken relations in the past decade. An example between this approach between the USA and the PRC was Nixon's visit to Beijing 1971. On the other hand, Spain had been an ally for the USA because of Franco's efforts to anihilate any relation with communism. In fact, he called himself the Western Sentinel and offered offered military bases which could be used by the American military aircraft. For these reasons, the United States were interested in gaining the support of both countries and making them allies of each other. In fact, the moment's realpolitik was so powerful that it forced countries of such different ideologies to cooperate and establish diplomatic relations with each other to be kept under the protection of the USA, giving the communist China an opportunity to become part of international organizations like the UN and strenghten ties with many western countries. More information regarding this first agreement between Maoist China and Francoist Spain can be found here.
To date, those countries are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, which was commemorated in China with an exchange of congratulation messages between former Chinese President Hu Jintao and ex-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and Spain's King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Moreover, Xi Jinping reminded the event during his meeting with the recently appointed Spanish ambassador, Manuel Valencia. He also demanded that Rajoy could make a trip to China to celebrate such an important date.
In the past 40 years the cooperation between Spain and China has been specially important in economic issues, mainly after the reforms engaged by Deng Xiaoping after Mao died. In fact, Europe has become a great market in which the Asian country can sell its goods at low prices while importing some luxury products for a growing wealthy class of the country. It has allowed Spain to establish companies that exploit some of the important mineral deposits held by the country, either in Chinese or in territory historically occupied areas during the twentieth century, such as Tibet. Furthermore, one of the most important Spanish businessmen is the chairman of a joint Chinese-Spanish company called Ganzi FerroAtlántica Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., "founded on 17 July 2008 in the city of Kangding, in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in the province of Sichuan, China (sic)". However, Ganzi (Kardze, in Tibetan) has been historically part of the Tibetan region of Kham, which was annexed during the Republican period as part of the province of Xikang and included territories now part from Chamdo prefecture (in the Tibetan Autonomous Region) and Sichuan province. In this way, FerroAtlántica's chairman Juan Miguel Villar-Mir aids Chinese occupation of Tibet with money which comes from the profits of some of his businesses in Spain, including OHL construction company.
To sum up, it is evident that the People's Party and the CCP are not as different as someone could think. The Memorandum remind the circumstances involving the first stablishment of diplomatic relations between Maoist China and Francoist Spain in 1973, when the Cold War forced them to put aside their ideological differences for global stability. Furthermore, the actors of this new agreement are the heirs of the former. On the one hand, PP is a political party which was founded by Manuel Fraga, a Minister during the last years of Francoism. On the other hand, CCP is still ruling in China despite it changed the communist economic system by introducing capitalist reforms. Their recent history shows that either Spain and China have more things in common than differences and that anything goes when it comes to trade agreements or money, even the Ethics and the respect for Human Rights.

UPDATE: According to the documentation related to "Bárcenas Lawsuit", a graft case against Spain's ruling  People's Party which is being investigated by Judge Ruz, Villar Mir was one among many bussinessmen who financed illegally the party by making huge donations. In fact, he had been finance minister between 1975 and 1976 and a close collaborator of former Francoist information minister Manuel Fraga (Fraga would be one of the PP founders), as well as of current Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Because of that, the chairman of Ferroatlántica has been charged on bribery for having gotten many public works contracts for another corporation owned by him in payment for the donations he made. Therefore, the relationship between PP and CCP is more murky than ever. Has this been one of the reasons that made both parties sign such an agreement?

Anna Ferrer Gil

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