A solar thermal power station built by a Chinese company in Morocco (XINHUA)
With diplomatic relations going back 60 years, China and Morocco have witnessed great progress in bilateral exchanges and cooperation in various fields during this time. To mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of ties on November 1, ChinAfrica reporter Liu Ting recently spoke to Li Li, China's Ambassador to Morocco, to hear his views on bilateral relations. An edited version of this interview follows:
ChinAfrica: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Morocco diplomatic relations. What are the highlights in bilateral engagement over the past years?
Li Li: Morocco officially established diplomatic relations with China on November 1, 1958, and thus became the second African country, as well as the second Arab country, to do so. In the past six decades, China-Morocco relations have maintained stable development with bilateral cooperation covering various aspects and realms.
The two countries support and help each other, providing an important impetus for each other's development. For instance, Morocco strongly backed China in the process of China resuming its legal seat in the United Nations in 1971; China dispatched its first medical team to Morocco in 1975; and Morocco's first Confucius Institute was established in Mohammed V University in 2009.
China-Morocco exchanges reached new heights in recent years. In May 2016, Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, paid a state visit to China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two leaders signed a joint statement on establishing a strategic partnership between the two countries, a milestone in the bilateral relations. Another achievement from this visit is that Morocco granted Chinese nationals visa exemption treatment, starting June 2016. In this regard, Morocco set a good example, and a number of African countries, including Tunisia, followed suit.
The year 2018 is a big year for both countries with escalated bilateral exchanges on various levels. Cooperation between China and Morocco under the frameworks of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) is notable. In July, Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Nasser Bourita came to China for the Eighth CASCF Ministerial Meeting; two months later, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani came to China for the FOCAC Beijing Summit to deliberate bilateral cooperation prospects, alignment of development strategies, driving regional development and jointly promoting the construction of the community of a shared future for mankind. Looking forward, I believe that China-Morocco relations will open a new chapter of relations on a higher level.
China and Morocco signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Belt and Road Initiative last year. What achievements have been made and what future plans are there in this regard?
China and Morocco signed an MoU on joint construction of the Belt and Road in November 2017, providing important policy support for both countries to promote cooperation in various fields under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Morocco thus became the first Maghreb country participating in the Belt and Road Initiative programs. China-Morocco friendship along the Belt and Road spans several centuries, making Morocco a natural cooperative partner of China along the Belt and Road routes. Aligning China's Belt and Road Initiative with Morocco's development strategy can help better arrange cooperation goals and plans of both countries in various fields, strengthen cooperation in areas such as infrastructure construction, business investment, ports and logistics, tourism and renewable energy in a pragmatic way. This will enhance mutual learning between China and Morocco for complementary development so as to bring real benefits to both peoples.
In addition, the FOCAC Beijing Summit put China-Africa alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative at its core. China and Morocco will actively explore a new tripartite cooperation model of China, Morocco and other related African countries so as to give full play to Morocco's important role in the region. Efforts will be made to launch pragmatic cooperation in various fields under the FOCAC framework to set a good example for South-South cooperation and jointly promote better development of China-Africa relations.
What is the current status of China's investment in Morocco? Which sectors should be strengthened in terms of bilateral economic cooperation?
China is Morocco's third largest trading partner. In 2017, China-Morocco bilateral trade reached $3.83 billion, an increase of 5.3 percent year on year. China's investment to Morocco shows an upward trend. At the end of July, China's CITIC Dicastal Co. Ltd. signed an agreement with the Moroccan Government on a project to produce wheel hubs, with an investment of 350 million euros ($405 million), the highest Chinese investment to Morocco in recent years.
Besides cooperation in traditional areas, China and Morocco also stress cooperation in emerging industries by promoting cooperation in areas such as ports, high-speed railways, industrial zones, finance, new energy and 5G. More and more Chinese hi-tech enterprises come to Morocco for investment. I believe bilateral cooperation in emerging industries will inject new impetus to our bilateral relations and further expand our cooperation.
What achievements have been made in China-Morocco cultural exchanges in recent years? How do you evaluate the role of cultural exchanges in promoting China-Morocco relations?
The friendship between the peoples is the foundation of state-to-state relations and cultural exchange has been a highlight in our bilateral relations. It is one of our embassy's focuses to constantly promote people-to-people exchange between China and Morocco so as to enhance mutual understanding. In March 2017, the Confucius Institute at Abdelmalek Essaâdi University was unveiled, making Morocco the only Arab country with three Confucius Institutes. In addition, the Chinese Cultural Center is expected to be established within the year, which will more energetically promote bilateral cultural exchange.
After Morocco exempted visa requirements for Chinese nationals on entering the country, the number of Chinese tourists to Morocco has been rising dramatically, reaching 120,000 in 2017. This year, the number is expected to exceed 200,000. In addition, more and more Moroccan people are enthusiastic about learning the Chinese language and you can frequently hear local people say hello to you in Chinese on the streets. Frequent people-to-people exchanges have rooted China-Morocco friendship deep into people's hearts, consolidating the friendship foundation of peoples in both countries.
What plans does the Chinese Embassy have to deepen China-Morocco strategic partnership?
In 2016, China and Morocco established a strategic partnership, a milestone in bilateral relations that can bring more cooperation opportunities in various fields. Currently, China is furthering its opening up and actively promoting its "going global" strategy; at the same time, Morocco is accelerating its industrial restructuring by actively attracting foreign investment. China has advantages in capital and technology while Morocco has a stable political environment, complete supporting infrastructure and the geographical position connecting Africa and Europe. China's Belt and Road Initiative can well align with Morocco's 2014-20 Industrial Acceleration Plan.
Looking ahead, the Chinese Embassy to Morocco will be committed to promoting bilateral exchanges in various levels to stimulate constant escalation of bilateral relations, supporting capable Chinese enterprises to participate in large infrastructure construction and promoting China-Morocco pragmatic cooperation in various fields such as military, science and technology, tourism and education. At the same time, we will enhance coordination and collaboration in international affairs so as to safeguard the common interests of our both countries and those of all the developing countries.
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