BEIJING – Colombian President Ivan Duque said his first official visit to China has been an extremely important event positioning his nation within the growing Chinese market.
Speaking to the press at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, following a marathon session of meetings with Chinese officials, Duque said that the effort to boost Colombia’s presence in Asia’s largest market had begun.
He said that his meetings with senior political officials and business leaders during his four-day visit to China, which concludes Wednesday, had led to several trade and investment deals, including on Colombian pork, beef and shrimp.
Duque announced a $400 million loan from the China Development Bank for the project dubbed Mar 2 between Chinese and Colombian companies for an energy project worth $1 billion.
“All this joint effort demonstrates that Colombia has to start looking to Asia with long-term goals,” he said.
His statements came at the end of a day of high-level meetings that began, hours before, with the handshake of the president of the National People’s Assembly of China, Li Zhanshu, with whom Duque raised a trade balance imbalance between the two nations that has left the South American country $5 billion trade deficit.
Duque reiterated, as he has done every day during his visit to China which began Sunday, his commitment to creating a direct air route between Colombia and China, which he considered “fundamental.”
Chinese tourists only represent “0.5 percent of tourism” in Colombia, about 15,000 a year, a figure that Duque hopes to multiply exponentially in the coming years.
The next meeting was with Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, with whom Duke spoke in English for a few minutes, then made use of the simultaneous translation, and recalled a trip he made with his wife to China as a tourist years ago.
The highlight of the day was the reception with the highest authority of the Asian country, President Xi Jinping, who offered him a welcome ceremony with military honors.
Different detachments of the Chinese Army paraded under the watchful eye of Xi and Duke, but also of Mao Zedong, whose portrait could be seen in the distance, presiding over the Tienanmen Gate.
At the end of the meeting, both leaders held a closed meeting, which concluded with the signing of several agreements on agriculture, energy, development cooperation, and the transfer of convicted persons.
Later, the presidents shared a banquet in honor of the Colombian, after which Duque addressed international reporters.
When asked by one journalist what his views were concerning events in Venezuela, the Colombian president said it was “a humanitarian tragedy and the biggest migration crisis in Latin America.”
In his opinion, he added, “a dictatorship” has contributed to the “impoverishment of Venezuelan society.”
No details were disclosed as to whether Xi and Duque discussed Venezuela, a country with which Beijing and Bogota have completely disparate relations, with China as one of the main supporters of the Maduro Government.
Colombia’s involvement with the New Silk Route was not mentioned either, a massive global infrastructure and investment project that China leads on.
Sources from Duque’s delegation told EFE that the South American country had been invited to join, but that it was not on the agenda as part of this trip which ends on Wednesday.