Eugenio Bregolat, who has served an unprecedented three terms as Spanish ambassador to China, has a deep sentimental attachment to the country.
A good friend of China, the retired diplomat has experienced the outstanding development of the country over the last 30 years, and helped cultivate ever-deepening ties between Spain and China.
His knowledge about China and the Chinese culture have been recognized by his peers and friends, and was reflected in his book The Second Chinese Revolution, which explores some of the key areas to understand the country as well as the different aspects that have played a fundamental role in its profound changes.
“I have had this exorbitant privilege of being an ambassador of my country to China three times,” the 76-year-old told China Daily in Beijing. “My personal, family and professional connections with China are very strong. I have been so incredibly lucky.”
His connections with China date back to his first tenure as an envoy of Spain to China between 1987 and 1991, and he worked as an ambassador in Beijing again from 1999 to 2003, and from 2011-13.
Bregolat said he has witnessed the “unbelievable” changes of this country.
“What has happened in China is the speediest and widest-ranging process of economic growth in the world’s history. It has progressed in such a short period.”
In Bregolat’s eyes, Sanlitun, a downtown area in Beijing where many embassies are located, is the epitome that represents the country’s rapid growth.
He recalled that, when he came to Beijing 32 years ago, there were many bicycles around the Sanlitun area and just a very few cars, most of them with diplomatic number plates.
Then in 1999, he could see from the embassy’s gate the Capital Mansion building a new 50-story skyscraper, Bregolat said.
“And now you can see new Sanlitun, a street full of bars, pubs and shopping centers with name brands,” the senior diplomat said. “So what has happened here is really amazing. It’s a testimony to how hard-working the Chinese people are, how good the country’s leadership has been and how appropriate the economic policy has been,” he said, adding all these things explain what China has achieved.
While witnessing the changes to Chinese society, Bregolat has also seen the rapid development of the relationship between China and Spain and also that between China and the European Union, as well as the profound changes of the international landscape.
“The relations between our two countries are developing very quickly,” Bregolat said. “President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Spain in November last year was very important, and will boost bilateral cooperation not only in the political field, but also in the economic, trade and investment areas.”
China is Spain’s largest trade partner outside the EU. Bilateral trade was over $33.7 billion last year. The two countries signed an agreement on the third-party market cooperation during Xi’s visit to Spain to strengthen their partnership under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Bregolat said Spain considers this initiative very positive.
“Spain is already collaborating with China through companies’ cooperation on a number of projects. And we are open to considering more opportunities and to strengthening the cooperation between our two countries in the Belt and Road initiative.”
He said the BRI focuses on infrastructure connectivity, which is greatly needed in many countries in Asia, Europe and other parts of the world.
Bregolat hailed the Second Belt and Road Forum on International Cooperation, which was held in Beijing in April.
“I think that the discussions were very open and positive as they involved the procedures to implement the initiative, taking into account the ecological and other factors, and trying to avoid, mitigate and solve problems,” he said, adding some criticisms about the BRI are “biased and not justified”.
Bregolat sees the importance of people-to-people exchanges in promoting China-Spain relations, saying his country wants to increase the number of Chinese tourists to 1 million next year from 700,000 last year.
“The exchanges are increasing at a very positive pace. This is a great contribution to the dialogue of civilizations to make our people to know each other much better, ” he said.
“Dialogue among different civilizations is essential if we are going to have a peaceful and prosperous world,” he added.
The Spanish diplomat also mentioned that the cooperation between China and the EU is “extremely important”, saying he was happily involved in this relationship.
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He said that, besides the close economic connections, the EU and China share similar positions on a lot of issues such as climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.
They both uphold the multilateral international system with the United Nations at the core as well as the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at the center, he added.
Bregolat also talked about the differences between China and the EU in such areas as market access and bilateral investment, expressing the hope that they could solve their differences through negotiations.
Bregolat still travels frequently between Spain and China and plays a significant role in promoting the economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.
Bregolat said his connections with China will be even stronger due to his son, who is living in Shanghai and works for ZARA, a Spanish fashion brand popular among Chinese youngsters.
He brought his son to China for the first time when the boy was only 2 years old. The boy spent many years in China when his father was the ambassador.
“He will be 35 years old in July, and he lived longer in China than in Spain. He has made China his second home.” Bregolat said.