China’s Xi splashes cash, deals on leisurely trip to woo Mexico

06/05/2013 5:01 PM

07/23/2013 6:53 PM

China’s leader is a guest who brings lots of gifts and lingers.

President Xi Jinping, on the second day of an unhurried three-day visit to Mexico, spoke to the nation’s Senate Wednesday afternoon, then left for City Hall and prepared to visit the nation’s most renowned Mayan pyramid before heading on to California later in the week.

Throughout his activities, Xi emphasized that China is upgrading its relations with Latin America, and Mexico in particular.

Xi opened his nation’s wallet to prove it, splashing out $1 billion in credit to Petroleos Mexicanos, the state oil giant, and pledging $1 billion in trade deals.

He also vowed to strengthen cultural and educational ties, offering 300 scholarships for Mexican students to study in China and announcing the opening of China’s first cultural center in Latin America. Other accords promised cooperation in renewable energy, disease control and promotion of tourism.

Xi’s presence marked the first official state visit of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s six-month-old government, which hailed it as giving “new impetus” to ties between the two nations after passing through a cool phase.

Appearing before lawmakers, the 59-year-old Xi highlighted that he and Pena Nieto had upgraded ties to what he called a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

“By doing this, we send a strong message to the international community that China and Mexico will form a common front to face various challenges in the future,” Xi said.

“The relationship between China and the region is now at an important stage of accelerated development,” Xi said.

Xi did not spell out what commercial deals were in the offing, but the announcement appeared intended to lessen frictions over a wide trade deficit. Local news accounts said Chinese firms are interested in building ports, highways and pipelines.

Mexico is China’s second-largest trade partner in Latin America. But even as total trade has risen sixfold, to more than $36 billion in 2012, a trade gap is yawning. For every $9 in goods that China sells to Mexico, Mexico only sells $1 in goods back.

China said it had agreed to permit imports of Mexican pork and tequila, and to “a bigger presence of Mexican products in China.”

“China is not looking for a trade surplus,” Xi told lawmakers. “On the contraryit is ready to actively increase the import of Mexican products.”

China also sees crude oil purchases from Mexico as a way to ameliorate the trade gap. Mexico agreed in April to provide China with 30,000 barrels a day of crude oil.

Both Xi and Pena Nieto offered effusive words at a joint appearance, followed by a banquet Tuesday evening. The Mexican leader described Mexico and China as “two countries on the rise” that are “strategic allies,” while Xi noted that both are descended from “millenary civilizations.”

Banners of China’s red flag with five gold stars festooned poles along the capital’s main boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma.

The visit marked a warming of relations that were chilled under two previous Mexican presidents, both of whom met with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan minority in China, who Beijing brands as an incorrigible separatist.

In a 33-point joint statement released Tuesday night, Mexico pledged not to interfere in China’s affairs regarding its “inalienable” region of Tibet and its claims on Taiwan, the independently governed island off its shores. On the sprawling Tibetan Plateau, 118 ethnic Tibetans, many of them monks or nuns, have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule.

Xi’s visit to Mexico drew wide coverage in media on the Chinese mainland, and is likely to boost tourism interest in Mexico, especially after Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, a renowned singer, tour the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula on Thursday.

Growing numbers of Chinese are traveling outside the mainland, but of the 93 million who did so last year, only 47,810 came to Mexico.

The joint statement said the two countries would work to promote reciprocal tourism and develop direct airline connections, both for passengers and freight, by a Chinese airline.

Xi pledged to lawmakers that “there will be more Chinese tourists at the temples of the moon and sun” at the pre-Aztec Teotihuacan ruins near the capital, and more “at Chichen Itza and on the beaches of Acapulco.”

Xi’s visit came amid a growing courtship of Latin America by the United States and China, the world’s No. 1 and 2 economies, respectively, as both nations seek to boost trade with a region that the United Nations says has lifted 58 million people from poverty in the past decade.

President Barack Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica last month, and Vice President Joe Biden just returned from Colombia, Trinidad and Brazil.

In a column printed in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Biden wrote “the Obama administration has launched the most sustained period of U.S. engagement with the Americas in a long, long time.”

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