Editor's note: Nuno Rodriguez is a political scientist and analyst. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
Back in March 9, 1973, China announced the establishment of its diplomatic relations with Spain. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their relationship.
Ancient China and ancient Spain are not politically unknown to each other. China's history goes back in time, and Spain, in its golden age, had the honor of establishing diplomatic relations with the millenary country during the Ming dynasty. Fortunately, the two nations met at a time of great splendor for both countries.
Nonetheless, while Spain was a nation growing up and projecting itself abroad, China considered itself as "Zhong Guo," or the nation at the center, always faithful to its culture and proud of its heritage.
From that first encounter to the present day, both nations have sailed through the ocean of history, through winds and storms stirred up by new nations, whose diplomatic paradigms differed from the Chinese and Spanish counterparts.
The storm of history set both nations adrift, breaking Spain apart and forcing China to pass through the century of humiliation, subjected to fierce impositions that disrupted its politics and territorial configuration. The diplomatic and commercial dynamics that had governed the Pacific area for centuries gave way to the colonial brutality of the new Western diplomacy.
Another way of understanding international relations emerged in the 19th century, but in this 21st century we are seeing it fade away, and we can see, with hope, new ways of understanding the world. 50 years ago, China and Spain met again. Everything has changed.
Now it is China, renewed and strengthened by its historical experience, which is projecting and shaping itself abroad. China's current abroad projection does not take place geographically; China does not seek to colonize other lands. China's outward projection seeks to explore, together with other nations, the creation of knowledge, technology, fair systems of governance, and new diplomatic and trade relations. This is a noble and difficult task requested by the history to China, as it had been requested to Spain in the past.
While ancient Spain was forged in Latin America, modern Spain is part of a decadent Europe, without linguistic or cultural unity, whose members hold conflicting interests and very different conceptions of both diplomacy and humanity.
Amid such times, relations between China and Spain are severely conditioned by Spain's membership in the EU, which understands diplomacy as something conjunctural, not something structural. Diplomacy in the hands of the EU seems to be a weapon of coercion, not a tool for cooperation. Actually, the European political conjuncture distorts diplomatic relations with China to senseless limits.
For 50 years, Chinese businessmen have been operating from Spain, recognizing Madrid as a bridge between the Spanish-American and European markets. Current trade relations between both nations are fruitful, but still lack the structural nature they had in the past centuries. China is a main exporter of goods to Spain, and Spain has many lines of investment in China, but this is not sufficient; more needs to be done. The two countries must bilaterally improve their social, political, and cultural relations, and this must be done by boosting institutional structures that do not respond to volatile political dynamics, but to a structural diplomatic dynamic impervious to political ups and downs.
Foreign ministries need to boost harder institutions aimed to foster trade and cultural exchange programs; hubs are needed to allow two-way traffic of economic and knowledge agreements.
Additionally, the Chinese diaspora can foster relations between the clubs, foundations, and national associations; it is indispensable to improve relations between both countries' social capital, and to boost parallel organizations that are not swayed by the unstable winds of politics.
It's necessary to increase private patronage involved in fostering social relations, the para-diplomacy of private entities is vital to create common social goals. Organizations such as the Spain-China Foundation, or Casa Asia, must have a wider impact and echo, but they are limited as entrepreneurs' private clubs.
Meanwhile, interpersonal relations must be enhanced, not only through the Chinese diaspora in Spain, or Spanish expats in China but through the promotion of long stays by professionals from both countries, whether for study, research, cultural reasons, or for pleasure.
Chinese society must get to know Spanish society; Spain has much to contribute to China. Increasing the length of stay of Chinese citizens in Spain must be a priority goal to strengthen personal ties.
What is needed is not only political agreements but also institutional architecture, a functional institutional architecture that forge human capital on which to base the bilateral future diplomacy. Through this architecture, Spain could be a main destination for Chinese students, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, and educated people who can be both bearers and receivers of culture. It's important that Chinese citizens recognize Spain as their home, and Spaniards recognize the same about China. Personal interaction would be the spark of a Spanish-Chinese culture that would be projected exponentially worldwide.
Both countries have in their hands the potential of closer relations measurable through cold macroeconomic variables, with extensive and detailed studies of the positive increase in trade, of mathematical rapprochement in certain fields of cooperation.
Yet China and Spain also have the possibility of increasing effective ties and many other non-market variables, qualitative variables that cannot be quantified through regular mathematical calculations. Both countries are bearers of cultures spread across the globe, and they can create a cultural alliance to create something much more superior.
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