China-Mexico rapport
By Jesús Seade  ·  2022-01-28  ·   Source: NO.5-6 FEBRUARY 3, 2022
Jesús Seade,the Ambassador of Mexico to China

The People's Republic of China (PRC) and Mexico will celebrate 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations on February 14. Half a century of ups and downs concluding in its finest moment across the entire width of the bond, huge areas of opportunity now arise before us to enrich a future of friendship and mutual benefit.

Historical assessment 

The ties between Mexico and China began several centuries before 1972. In the mid-16th century, an active exchange route was opened across the great ocean, the legendary Manila Galleon or Nao de China, which with one or two round trips a year connected Manila with beautiful Acapulco for 250 years, moving merchandise from all over China to New Spain, frequently forwarded to Spain and Europe. It was thus that New Hispanics began to make silk shawls, lacquers, ceramics and hand fans, and that pepper, cloves, cinnamon and coriander became favorite ingredients of the Mexican gastronomy. China discovered the delights of chili, corn, tomato, peanut and cocoa from Mexico, not to mention silver and gold. The Mexican silver peseta was an important circulating currency throughout Southeast Asia. And along with merchandise and metals, ideas, tastes, words and customs were shared.

After these centennial encounters, our nations saw an agitated 19th century with interventions, meeting again at the end of this period with the Treaty of Friendship, Trade and Navigation between China and Mexico (1899), which initiated the formal bilateral diplomatic relationship and fostered the first migratory flows from China to Mexico, modest but important because of how much their talent and hard work contributed to the latter's development.

Our next great meeting occurs in 1971, when Mexico from the presidency itself offers strong and outstanding support to the PRC before the UN General Assembly, toward the restoration of its lawful seat in the organization. On February 14, 1972, the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the PRC was formalized, the former becoming one of the first Latin American countries to open its embassy in Beijing. 

Just one year later, President Luis Echeverría made a historic visit to China, where he was received by Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. Reaffirming these excellent ties of friendship and cooperation, the Chinese Government gave Mexico a pair of pandas in 1975, the only Latin American or Caribbean country to receive this honor. The pandas' descendants still receive thousands of daily visitors to a zoo in Mexico City.

Over the following five decades, leaders of both countries (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) exchanged reciprocal visits.

In 2003, the bilateral relationship was elevated to a strategic partnership; in 2004, the Permanent Binational Commission was created as a coordinating framework; and in 2013, prompted by President Xi Jinping's visit to Mexico, both countries agreed to lift their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

A driver operates a China-made light rail train in Monterrey, Mexico, on October 1, 2021 (XINHUA)

Status quo 

Mexico and China are at an optimal moment in their relationship. The cordial telephone calls and other contacts between President López Obrador and President Xi have taken bilateral cooperation to new levels. The prompt and sincere help that Mexico was able to provide to China when the COVID-19 pandemic began and the extraordinary assistance given by China to Mexico from then on, including the shipping of large equipment, medical supplies and vaccines battling the pandemic, are matters which both governments and peoples are deeply aware of and grateful for.

It is necessary to highlight the Mexico-China collaboration in the research and development of the CansinoBio vaccine against COVID-19 within Mexican borders.

The pro tempore presidency of Mexico of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2020 and 2021 deserves a separate mention, as it placed special emphasis on political dialogue and cooperation between Latin America as a whole and China, fostering an interregional dialogue in which collaboration in health, the pandemic fight, poverty alleviation, and science and technology was expanded. The Third Ministerial Meeting of the CELAC-China Forum last December was of the utmost importance, as it allowed the drafting of the roadmap that will define cooperation between China and the CELAC for the next three years.

Likewise, the Mexico-China multilateral collaboration takes on increasing prominence in the maintenance of international peace and security, post-COVID-19 economic recovery, environmental protection and global development, under the framework of the Group of 20, the UN Security Council (with Mexico as elected member 2021-22) and the UN Economic and Social Council.

Trade and investment flows between both countries, too, have been increasing in the past half a century. China today is our second largest trading partner and Mexico is China's second largest trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean, with flows exceeding $90 billion in 2019—prior to the pandemic. Although there is a trade deficit for Mexico that both parties must address, our country constantly raises its exports, in a diversity of agrifood products such as tequila, avocado, fruits and meat, and progressively in manufactured goods in which the potential for integration is enormous. Conversely, Mexico imports various manufactured products from China, which in many cases are incorporated into national value chains to be re-exported to third countries.

Investment, in both directions, still has great potential but has been growing in recent years. Mexico is an ideal partner for China: part of North America and Latin America, with the coasts of the emerging American economy closest to China and Europe, with a young population and a great manufacturing tradition, as well as trade agreements with more than 50 countries. These enormous strengths are attracting more and more Chinese companies to settle in Mexico, such as crude oil and natural gas producer China National Offshore Oil Corp. as well as tech giants like Lenovo and Huawei, producing for the market and for export or participating in large projects such as the construction of the Mayan Train and the modernization of the Mexico City metro system. In the same way, we have a growing presence of Mexican companies in China such as BIMBO (bakery), Nemak (auto parts), CEMEX (cement) and Softek (information systems).

Exchanges between peoples and mutual knowledge have also been developing. Various scientific and technological cooperation agreements have resulted in projects in agriculture, fishing, mining, aquaculture, traditional medicine, and rural and social development.

Cultural promotion can significantly contribute to the rapport between us. The great potential for shared cultural interest is demonstrated by the large numbers of exhibitions and artistic expressions held in both countries. The beautiful monumental ice replica of the famous Mayan Kukulkan pyramid on display at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival 2021-22 appears to be a hit with visiting crowds. We would like to bring more Mexican cultural beauties to all corners of this great country.

Student exchanges have also become a fundamental pillar of interrelation and contributed to the deepening of mutual knowledge, with the annual Mexico-China scholarship program having allowed thousands of Chinese and Mexican students to train in institutions of excellence since 1973.

Travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic represent a challenge for tourist flows between Mexico and China. In the years leading up to the pandemic, our exchanges grew steadily on both tracks. It is urgent to reestablish the direct Mexico-China air routes we already had, but unfortunately for the time being have been suspended.

Future prospects 

Our friendship throughout this half century, with roots of exchanges of goods and traditions traversing half a millennium, is strong; and this is its finest moment.

We have great untapped potential, which we must together pursue. It is not possible to predict what will happen in the next 50 years, but the potential exists. The mutual good disposition does, too. We will continue to trace new routes that deepen our friendship in an increasingly broad, productive and fraternal relationship, promoting more dialogue, cooperation, integration, and with all this, prosperity for our peoples.

The author is the Ambassador of Mexico to China. This is an edited translation of his article for China Hoy 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to yanwei@cicgamericas.com 

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