Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited China on March 30 and 31, 2023, to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and China. The visit, just as intended, provided a favorable environment in which many issues could be addressed. In this regard, issues such as bilateral relations, Spain’s aspirations during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) in the second term of 2023, and China’s peace plan amid the Russian-Ukrainian war are likely to broaden and set the parameters of the discussions between the sides.
Economic relations are of particular importance in the bilateral relations between Spain and China. China is the largest import destination for Spain worldwide. On the other hand, of the countries in the Asian continent, Spain exports the most to China. Therefore, China emerges as Spain’s primary economic partner in Asia. Notwithstanding, economic relations between Spain and China have become chronic for Spain in the last decade. For instance, last year, in 2022, the value of Spain’s imports from China amounted to €49.653 billion, whereas the value of its exports to China hovered around €8.013 billion. In other words, Spain’s overall exports to China are far from meeting its imports from China. While these figures reflect the economic relations of many countries with China at present, Sánchez advocates an adjustment, as the situation appears to be unsustainable.
The import-export imbalance is not the only source of discomfort for Spain in its economic relations with China. The economic policies pursued by Chinese President Xi Jinping prevent about 600 Spanish companies present in China from operating more efficiently in the Chinese economy. In the same vein, as a consequence of these policies, restrictions on access to foreign capital in China have been emerging and investment flows from Spain to China have been slowing down. For instance, while China invested 435 million euros in Spain in 2021, Spain invested only 51 million euros in China. Therefore, Sánchez is thought to have mentioned these inconveniences during the talks.
On the other hand, two other issues, which are assumed to be the subject of the talks, are closely interrelated. Sánchez will take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU in June this year, and his primary goal during his mandate is to initiate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine over the conflict, in accordance with a set of conditions that the EU could support. As things stand, both the EU and non-EU allies of Ukraine support the 10-point peace plan presented by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in late December 2022. On the contrary, a 12-point peace plan has been drafted by Xi in the past months, which has been adopted by the Chinese government. However, Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland, are skeptical of China’s proposed plan, especially given the close ties between China and Russia. Besides, they point out that China’s peace plan does not demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory nor does it explicitly state that Ukraine is a sovereign and independent country.
The two seemingly contradictory peace plans, as a matter of fact, present an opportunity for Sánchez and Xi. On the one hand, Xi aims to assert China’s position in the international arena through its soft power as a mediator in the conflict, on the other hand, Sánchez aims to fulfill the goal he set during his Presidency of the Council of the EU and become a major actor in the EU’s peace negotiations with Russia. Therefore, it can be inferred that the sides endeavored to make the other side better acquainted with their plan and to influence the other side during the talks. Thereby, the goal during the talks was to reach a compromise between the two plans.
Finally, following Sánchez, it was seen that French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited China. For this reason, it can be stated that unlike the bloc led by the USA, which pursues a policy of excluding China, the EU is aware of the fact that China is a key actor in order to achieve a ceasefire within the scope of the Russia-Ukraine war and follows a different policy from the USA. Therefore, the policy of contacting China started with Sánchez and continues with other EU countries.
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 “España – Exportaciónes de Mercancías”, Datosmacro, https://datosmacro.expansion.com/comercio/exportaciones/espana, (Date of Accession: 2022).
 “Comercio bilateral España-China”, Fundación Consejo España China, https://spain-china-foundation.org/relaciones-economicas-espana-china/, (Date of Accession: 2022).
 “Inversiones bilaterales España – China”, Fundación Consejo España China, https://spain-china-foundation.org/relaciones-economicas-espana-china/, (Date of Accession: 2022).
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