Panda diplomacy is back. Thirty five years ago, during his historic visit to China, US president Richard Nixon received two giant pandas as gifts. Today, it is the King of Spain who gets a couple of pandas to take back to Madrid.
The reason for this largesse is the official visit of the King and Queen of Spain to China, the high point in a year-long round of activities designed to put Spain on the map for Chinese tourists, consumers and businesses.
It may have escaped the attention of the rest of the world, but 2007 is the “Year of Spain in China” and Spain is pulling out all the stops to promote its culture, language and institutions — and, of course, Spanish business.
Coinciding with the royal visit, a delegation of more than 250 Spanish businesspeople has travelled to China to take part in a Spanish-Chinese business summit in Beijing. Around 400 Chinese businesses were invited to the summit here Spanish business put its case.
This is the second such summit organised between the two countries and it is designed to showcase Spanish businesses that could be possible technological and industrial partners for China.
While trade links between the two countries have been pretty limited to date, around 300 Spanish companies have now established a presence in China and one of the aims of event is to move beyond the cliches and project a more modern image of both countries' economies.
For example, Endesa, Spain's largest utility, used its presence in the summit to talk up China's growing importance as a source of carbon credits. Using the Clean Development Mechanism, a key feature of the Kyoto Protocol, industries in the west can offset their CO2 emissions by buying credits from renewable energy projects in emerging countries like China.
Last year, Endesa bought carbon credits from three Chinese wind farms and a hydro plant – more on the CDM scheme in this EngagingChina story.
Indra, one of Spain's handful of technology companies, announced it had won a contract to supply air traffic control systems to China.
Meanwhile, BBVA, one of Spain's top banks, announced it would strengthen its Chinese ties by doubling its stake in China Citic Bank to 9.9% by 2008. It is also considering applying for a qualified foreign institutional investor (QFII) licence in China, and would support China Citic Bank if it decides to apply for a qualified domestic institutional investor licence (QDII). More on BBVA's China connections in this story.
But perhaps the most long-awaited announcement concerns a very traditional Spanish business — making ham. Reflecting the importance of the announcement, it was Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao no less who who gave King Juan Carlos the news that China would lift long-standing restrictions imposed on Spanish pork products.
The best jamon serrano can reach astronomic prices which puts it out out of reach of the great majority of Chinese consumers. Nevertheless,Spain's ham curing industry takes comfort from knowing that China now has more millionaires than the European Union and it calculates that out of China's population of 1.3bn around 30m consumers have enough spending power to buy Spanish ham.
The population of Spain itself is only around 40m so it is easy to understand why mouths are now salivating in Spain's ham sector.