“Only England during the Industrial Revolution Could Compare to China Now”


By staff reporter MICHAEL ZÁRATE


LUIS Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), paid an official visit to China from February 28 to March 2 – the first ever formal visit to China by a secretary general of this organization. As the Uruguayan ambassador to China from 2007 to 2010, he witnessed the rapid development of Chinese society. Believing China would once again support him, this time as leader of the OAS, Mr. Almagro held an exclusive interview with China Today during his stay in Beijing.


Develop Bi-/Multi-lateral Relations



Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro.


China Today: Ambassador Almagro, you recently met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. Could you tell us about some of the results of this meeting?


Luis Almagro: When I met Chinese officials, we mainly focused on how to promote relations between the OAS and China. For example, we were wondering if it was possible to establish an annual high-level political dialogue mechanism, and if it was workable for us to mutually implement a series of project plans. We hope China will participate more in the planned projects supported by the OAS.


China Today: What type of projects?


Luis Almagro: Such as government-funded public schools, building links within the Caribbean region, preventing and responding to natural disasters, educational systems in the Americas, and management mechanisms for social contradictions. China established relations with the OAS in 2004, and sent us a permanent representative, who later became your foreign minister, and now state councilor, Mr. Yang Jiechi.


China Today: State Councilor Yang Jiechi voiced support for China and the OAS strengthening cooperation. How could the OAS promote dialogue between China and the Americas?


Luis Almagro: Yang Jiechi has supported political dialogue between China and the OAS on behalf of the Chinese government, and China has participated in some of the organization’s key programs. In addition, China and the OAS have established a working framework upholding economic, trade and cooperative relations between China and Latin America, and resolving issues hand in hand. Based on this framework, the two parties could respond to challenges such as poverty, inequality, corruption, disease, climate change, water, energy, and natural disasters. Our recommendation to cement and reinforce this framework was supported by State Councilor Yang Jiechi, the Foreign Minister, and the deputy minister from the Ministry of Commerce.


China’s Investment in the U.S. Exceeds U.S.’s Investment in China


China Today: You mentioned meeting with officials from China’s Ministry of Commerce. Since Latin America is an important overseas investment destination for China, what ideas does the OAS have for promoting bilateral trade relations?


Luis Almagro: We try to promote trade relations between China and the Americas in an all-round way. Today’s China has changed the American equation, since China’s investment in the U.S. exceeds the latter’s investment in China. This reinforces relations between China and Latin America and the Caribbean, including cooperation in a series of development projects and providing raw materials, and in training enterprise employees and government officials. The OAS has contributed a lot in each of these aspects. For example, when formulating the social-contradictions management mechanisms, we’ve taken into consideration that the source of the main social contradictions in the Americas is related to major investment, and industrial and mining projects. This is vitally linked to China’s future investments on the continent, especially in such projects. As to corruption and security issues, the environment in Latin America and the Caribbean has improved, which should facilitate cooperation between China and enterprises in the Americas.


All China’s Links to the Americas Are Pleasant


China Today: Young organizations such as CELAC  (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) are promoting dialogue with China. One year ago, you attended the first ministerial meeting of China and CELAC, as Uruguay’s foreign minister. How does the OAS regard such intergovernmental organizations and their relations to China?


Luis Almagro: This is a good question. I hold a positive view of this issue. The closer China relates to CELAC, UNASUR, SICA, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, Alianza del Pacifico and ALBA, the better the environment the OAS enjoys. We don’t compete with any organization; instead, we supplement and reinforce each other. So, all China’s links to the Americas are pleasant. The OAS differs from those organizations. We are dedicated to the promotion of democracy, the protection of human rights, and the settlement of safety and development issues. It is a great delight to us as one of the oldest regional organizations to hold dialogues with one of the oldest countries in the world. Both sides have a far-reaching history and long traditions of effectiveness and a willingness to work, which guarantees the establishment and deepening of mutual trust.


This Is Unique to Me


China Today: You were Uruguay’s Ambassador to China from 2007 to 2010, during which period you witnessed the transformation of Chinese society. Over the past 15 years, what aspects of  China’s development attract your greatest interest?


Luis Almagro: In fact, China’s development is easily visible. I have gained fresh ideas of what a developing country means. In the past, I thought all developing countries were like those in Latin America, where things evolved rather quietly. However, from 2007 to 2010, China experienced explosive development, and growth in everything from manufacturing and mining to the industrial and service sectors, and so on, that is both perceivable and tangible. Only England during the Industrial Revolution could compare to China now. Besides, the impetus behind China’s evident growth is unmatched in the world. My personal experience in China is unique. No doubt, it has enriched my professional career, for I have learned a new style of governance. I have come to understand one that may be applied to different areas. I am now familiar with the reward mechanism, the training of officials and the appointment of people according to their ability. China is a country eager for more trade, more imports and exports, more investment, more cooperation and an enriched political dialogue. This has indeed provided a very desirable work experience, for we are striding forward moment by moment.


China More Friendly


China Today: Since you have such rich experience, what do you think of China’s importance to Latin America today?


Luis Almagro: To most Latin American countries, China is an important trading partner, and bilateral trade between these countries and China always maintains solid growth. Most of China’s investment projects run smoothly in Latin America, and China’s investments in Latin America even outnumber those of the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank (IBRD) combined. All such data are very objective, but there is also something subjective: China seems more friendly, and with the growth of trade comes the growth of mutual trust and importance.


Speaking of free trade and competition, people always emphasize their importance, yet attitudes change totally when such freedom affects their own economic and trading interests. In the past, some multinational businesses competed with each other, resulting in the losses of developing countries, but China has changed this situation completely. Thanks to China, the prices we pay for manufactured goods are lower, and the prices of our export goods have risen. These new trading and economic relations benefit us, so we should keep looking to the future. The world economy has slowed down, and some countries’ economy is regressing, but that is the law of economic cycle, and we should be prepared to embrace the next one. Closer relations between China, Latin America and the Caribbean and deeper insight in strategic cooperation will bring greater achievements.