China launched a direct cargo train link between the Chinese city of Yiwu and Madrid in Spain in 2014. Gong Xianming China Daily
Spain is unlikely to join China’s Belt and Road initiative during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ongoing state visit, despite Beijing’s eagerness to expand cooperation under its ambitious infrastructure and trade project.
A senior official from the Spanish prime minister’s office told AFP on Tuesday that the Southern European country would not sign a memorandum of understanding regarding the Belt and Road initiative.
"Europe has a connectivity initiative with Asia, so we think Europeans should work within this framework," said the official, who refused to be named.
The European Union unveiled a high-level strategy for improving the 28-nation bloc’s transport, energy, and digital infrastructure links with Asia in September, along with a planned increase of its external action budget.
The EU’s move was widely seen as a counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative, which was announced by Xi five years ago for boosting trade through massive investment in ports, power plants and other infrastructure across Asia, Europe and Africa.
The Spanish government official’s statement came on the same day that Xi began his three-day visit to the country ahead of the G20 summit in Argentina later this week.
Ahead of the visit, Chinese media were reporting on the increased Belt and Road cooperation between China and Spain and a possible related memorandum of understanding. China has already launched a direct cargo train link between the cities of Yiwu and Madrid while state-owned COSCO shipping company’s majority stake in the firm operating ports in Valencia and Bilbao.
However, Spain’s refusal to officially join the initiative may disappoint Beijing, which has already succeeded in enlisting over 100 countries and international organisations to the project.
All eastern European countries and Greece have signed up to the initiative while the new populist government in Italy has said it seeks to become the leading EU partner in the Belt and Road initiative and to attract Chinese investment into strategic sectors.
Although China says the initiative benefits all participants, politicians and diplomats in Western European countries have criticised it for favouring Chinese companies and for undermining EU unity vis-à-vis Beijing. Earlier this month, the EU reached a political agreement on a new cooperation mechanism to screen foreign investments in strategic technologies and infrastructure, another move seen as targeting rising Chinese investment in the region.