Aziz Mekouar, Morocco’s Ambassador to China
On November 1, 2018, Morocco and China celebrated the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. On this occasion, Aziz Mekouar, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to China, spoke to ChinAfrica on a number of topics, including trade relations between the two countries and Morocco's participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. An edited version of the interview follows:
ChinAfrica: What are some of the highlights of the current relationship between the two countries?
Aziz Mekouar: Over the last 60 years, our two countries and our two peoples have had the opportunity to discover, better know and appreciate each other. However, we must remember that Morocco and China were already linked by ancient relations dating as far back as Ibn Battuta's travel to China and Wang Dayuan's travel to Morocco [both in the 14th Century]. In the past, our two countries had strong trade relations and exchanged many goods on the Silk Road.
These relations have made many achievements and both countries have established a wide-ranging cooperation that covers all areas. The climax of this win-win-based friendship was the visit of His Majesty King Mohammed VI to China in May 2016, which led to the signature of 15 agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoUs), including the statement of establishing a strategic partnership between the two countries. During this visit, His Majesty and Chinese President Xi Jinping developed a strong personal relationship, and this close friendship between our two heads of state opens up promising prospects for the future of our bilateral relations.
Last year, China and Morocco signed an MoU on the Belt and Road Initiative, which marked an important step forward in the development of bilateral relations. How will Morocco benefit from taking part in this initiative?
The Belt and Road Initiative, a great vision put forward by President Xi, is an initiative that will help develop trade in all sectors. Morocco, whose geographical position is unique, naturally finds its place within this initiative. Located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, with world-class infrastructure, such as the Port of Tangier Med, many highways and railways, including a high-speed railway, Morocco has many advantages. Therefore, this MoU is the normal course of things.
Of course, we hope that this step forward in our relationship will serve an important purpose and will allow both our countries to benefit from each other. It is in line with the vision of our leaders, which is to establish South-South cooperation as a new path for the development of our two countries and our two peoples. Morocco plans to further expand and upgrade its entire infrastructure. The Belt and Road Initiative is a great way to achieve that.
Wine is an import part of China’s imports from Morocco CHEN BINJIE
China is currently Morocco's third largest trading partner. Since Morocco launched its visa-free policy for Chinese citizens in June 2016, tourism has become a new engine of commercial growth between the two countries. In what other areas can the two countries further strengthen their trade cooperation?
Trade cooperation between our two countries is already excellent, but it is still not up to our expectations. In terms of tourism, His Majesty's decision to exempt all our Chinese friends from visa requirements has brought a new impetus to this sector. The Chinese contribution to Morocco's tourism industry grew by 240 percent in 2017, and the first six months of 2018 showed that the trend continues.
But other areas can be better developed as well. In fact, all of Morocco's industrial sectors are concerned, because the cooperation potential between our two countries is so vast. We are hoping that China International Import Expo in Shanghai [in early November] will breathe new life into our trade cooperation and open new markets to Moroccan operators. There are many opportunities in the field of agribusiness, in particular, because this sector is among the most dynamic in Morocco.
Morocco is the first Arab country to host three Confucius Institutes. What role can Confucius Institutes play in terms of cultural exchanges?
Morocco is proud to host three Confucius Institutes. Through them, Moroccans are able to discover China's culture and civilization, which are known to be very rich. These institutes also make it possible for Moroccan students wishing to study in China to learn the language and better know the culture of a country where they will spend several years. The rich Chinese literature is full of masterpieces that fascinate Moroccans and encourage them to know more about your beautiful country, which - despite being located far away - is becoming more and more familiar.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up policy. How do you see China's achievements over the last 40 years?
What is most striking for visitors who land in China is the level of development it was able to reach in such a short time. In a very short period, Chinese leaders and people have made tremendous progress and tremendous efforts that have transformed China into the world's second largest economy. No country has ever achieved such a transition, which commands the respect and admiration of all.
Although China is still a developing country, it has become a key player in the global economy. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty and the rise of a large middle class has made domestic consumption one of the drivers of the country's growth. What is most impressive is to see the work in progress throughout China to constantly improve infrastructure, especially the railway network with its many high-speed lines. It is important to note that all of this has been done without damaging the country's rich cultural heritage that fascinates so many tourists.
Going forward, what is Morocco planning to do as part of the Belt and Road Initiative?
Morocco will spare no effort to strengthen its strategic partnership with China and will take all necessary actions to continue to take part in the Belt and Road Initiative. High-level exchanges and visits will continue and help establish appropriate mechanisms and identify what measures must be taken to strengthen bilateral relations between our two countries. We will maintain a permanent and fruitful dialogue with our Chinese friends, and cooperation is expected to continue to grow in all areas.
As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations, the ties between our two countries and our two peoples have never been stronger, and I am certain they will be strengthened even further in the future.
(Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)