by Gerardo Laborde
MONTEVIDEO, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- Former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said he has long had an interest in China, a country he first visited in the 1960s and again during his presidency to bolster bilateral ties.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, Mujica, who served as the Uruguayan president from 2010 to 2015, said to strengthen the relationship between Uruguay and China, the two countries need to develop a deeper appreciation for each other's cultures.
The two sides this year stepped up cultural exchanges to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties, which helped Uruguayans learn more about China's culture, he said.
These exchanges "lead us to gradually take another step up in (knowledge about) an age-old culture full of symbolism," Mujica said.
This year saw the opening of the first Confucius Institute in the capital Montevideo. The institute offers Mandarin courses as well as courses on the Chinese culture.
The former head of state, 83, attended a recent performance of "National Beauty," a traditional dance and music show presented by China Oriental Performing Arts Group as part of the year's cultural celebrations.
In October 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Uruguayan counterpart Tabare Vazquez met in Beijing and agreed to raise bilateral ties to the level of a strategic partnership, giving new impetus to the relationship.
China is a gigantic country, "which, in a world that is becoming smaller, is increasingly important to understand, study and learn from," Mujica said.
Bilateral ties still need to make progress in "everything," because "there's still a universe left to discover," he said.
On the cultural front, the two countries also need to raise mutual awareness because Uruguayans have "a Western, Mediterranean heritage" while China "is Confucian," said Mujica.
Whereas the Western society places emphasis on individualism, Chinese value "collective behavior," he added.
The ancient inhabitants of Latin America had the magnificent Maya civilization, "which flourished for approximately 3,000 years," said Mujica, adding that today "we have China. I hope we are not so inept as to ignore it."