Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Portugal for a two-day visit to boost economic ties, despite concern in some EU capitals over China’s growing influence across the continent.
His two-day stay will include the signing of cooperation agreements, one of which will bring the southwestern port of Sines into what China calls the “new Silk Road”.
“Relations between China and Portugal are entering their best period… We must develop existing projects and step up our commercial exchanges,” Xi said at a meeting with counterpart Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
“Portugal is an important hub in the land and maritime silk routes,” Xi said. De Sousa added Sines was “the symbol of a partnership which we want to continue to build.”
The initiative offers loans to build railways, roads, and ports across Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Investment from China accounted for 3.6 percent of Portugal’s GDP between 2010 and 2016, according to figures from Spain’s ESADE business school.
But China’s growing influence in Europe, welcomed by Greece and some east European countries, is viewed warily by others on the continent.
At the initiative of France and Germany, EU countries last week agreed on a framework regulating foreign investment, particularly from China.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said Lisbon did not back the idea and was relieved that the final accord provided for only an advisory role for the European Commission.
“In Portugal, we are not anxious about the origin of foreign investment,” Costa said, asking Europe to eschew “the path of protectionism.”
China now owns a 28 percent stake in Portuguese energy utility EDP, the country’s largest firm, via China Three Gorges and China’s state-owned international investment company CNIC.
It also has a stake in Portugal’s biggest private bank, BCP, and its leading insurance company, Fidelidade. According to estimates, Chinese investment in the country could total 12 billion dollars.
Perhaps the most contentious issue in China Three Gorges’ bid to take a controlling stake in EDP, of which it is already the main stakeholder. The operation, launched in May, involves some nine billion euros.