LISBON. — Portugal, a country with indelible imprints on maritime trade, has well-grounded interests in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Portuguese experts said ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit.
The BRI, proposed by Xi and aimed at promoting common development along the ancient Silk Road trade routes and beyond, provides a good opportunity to boost China-Portugal cooperation and the two countries’ development, they noted. “The most important period of our history was linked with the Maritime Silk Road,” said Dr. Fernanda Ilheu, president of the New Silk Road Friends Association, adding that Portuguese interests in the BRI are rooted in history.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, China was involved in the Maritime Silk Road in which Portugal played a pioneering role, said Ilheu.
In 1987, the Chinese and Portuguese governments reached an agreement on resolving the issue of Macao left over from history, setting a successful example for countries to deal with issues of this kind, Chinese Ambassador to Portugal Cai Run said.
“The relations of friendship and cooperation between Portugal and China are centenarian, without ever having a conflict between the two countries,” said Jorge Correia, CEO of Fidelidade, a leading insurer in Portugal.
“It was the Portuguese that introduced tea in Europe and kept its original Chinese name,” said Correia, also a global partner of Fosun, a Chinese private conglomerate. “If we were able to maintain fruitful cooperation at very difficult times in history, there is no reason to think that this could not be the case in the future,” he added.
“It is difficult to separate the Portuguese enthusiasm about the BRI from the overall state of bilateral relations,” said Carlos Rodrigues, head of the Department of Social, Political and Territorial Sciences at University of Aveiro, noting that the political, economic and cultural relations between Portugal and China are “at the highest point.”
Portugal has been a high-profile destination for Chinese direct investment in recent years, with prominent Chinese companies like Fosun injecting significant capital into key sectors of the country such as banking, insurance and health.
In May, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said that the relations between Portugal and China have been developing very smoothly and bilateral economic cooperation in recent years has been lifted to a very high level. Portugal has been supporting the BRI since the initiative’s very commencement. Portugal, with its finest ports in Europe, is willing to give full play to this advantage so as to strengthen cooperation with China and further push forward BRI construction, the president said at that time.
Boasting a “geostrategic location in the Atlantic, between Africa, America and Europe,” Portugal has seen an opportunity to align its development strategies with the Chinese initiative, according to Dr Paulo Duarte, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Minho.
“Portugal is strategically located in the scope of the Maritime Silk Road, as the first port that ships encounter when traveling the Atlantic Ocean is located in the country,” said Dr Virginia Trigo, a professor emeritus at the University of Lisbon. Portugal has well-equipped deep water ports close to the airport and railway facilities, which allows products to be transported throughout Europe, Trigo said when explaining Portugal’s role in the BRI.
Noting that the Portuguese government intends to place Portugal among the leading countries in taking advantage of the sea and the sea economy, Rodrigues said the objective to transform Portugal into an international maritime hub is a major reason for Portuguese authorities to align its development strategy with the BRI.
“I think there is a large consensus on the importance of sustaining and reinforcing good relations between the two countries,” he said. – Xinhua