LISBON, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Politicians, bankers, businessmen and students gathered in Lisbon on Friday for a conference to discuss Portugal's participation in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Addressing the event, Cai Run, China's Ambassador to Portugal, said "Portuguese-Chinese relations are currently the best they've been in history." He highlighted three areas of increased Chinese involvement in Portugal: investment, tourism and higher education.
He said the Belt and Road Initiative was "not China's solo show, but a chorus for all participating countries to join in with."
Hailing the initiative as "a great platform to promote mutual benefit" and "a new driving force for global economic growth," the Chinese ambassador described Portugal as being "an important spot on the maritime silk road".
"China values Portugal's role in the Belt and Road Initiative very highly and is willing to proactively push ahead with increased, pragmatic Chinese and Portuguese cooperation under the BRI framework," he said.
The Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes. It comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Portugal has been pushing for the land-based belt, currently projected to run from Chongqing to Madrid, to be extended into Portugal, specifically as far as the port of Sines, and for Sines to be included in the maritime road.
Sines is Portugal's largest and busiest commercial port. In September last year, Portugal and China signed a bilateral agreement aimed at speeding up customs procedures for shipments travelling between Sines and Chinese ports. Portugal is also promoting the viability of Setubal, an under-used port north of Sines and south of Lisbon, and the Beja airbase, an airport 100 km east of Sines.
Fernanda Ilheu is president of the board of directors at the New Silk Road Friends Association. "The logical thing is that the inland silk road meets the maritime silk road at Sines in Portugal," Ilheu told Xinhua.
Ilheu helped set up the New Silk Road Friends Association in December 2016. "I thought we needed a think tank in Portugal for this initiative, to see how we can jointly build the new silk road with China, mostly the maritime silk road, where we have a lot of experience, tradition and knowledge," said Ilheu. "Portugal needs to focus on this initiative, find out more, promote it and understand how we can cooperate. That's the basis of our association."