BEIJING, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Recent years have witnessed close ties between Colombia and China, with more opportunities for bilateral cooperation to come in the future, Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez has said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
Noting that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Duque said Colombia and China established diplomatic relations in 1980 and the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic ties will fall in February 2020.
"My visit to Shanghai and Beijing is to reinforce that relationship, not only looking backwards on how we emerged in the bilateral relationship, but also looking forward for the next 40 years to come," Duque told Xinhua Tuesday during his first state visit to China as Colombian president from July 28 to 31.
With bilateral trade booming in recent years, China has become Colombia's second largest trading partner, Colombia being China's fifth largest trading partner in Latin America. According to Chinese customs statistics, the bilateral trade volume reached 14.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, up 29.2 percent year on year.
According to Duque, 85 percent of Colombian exports to China are now petroleum products, and it is a main task for Colombia to expand and diversify exports to China.
He expressed delight over Colombian banana exports to China, of which the total volume has surpassed 40 million U.S. dollars, making banana the top agricultural product Colombia exports to China.
As China adjusts its economic structure and upgrades consumption, an increasing number of "Latin American flavors" have found their way onto the dinner tables of Chinese people, bringing more opportunities for agricultural product trade between China and Latin America.
Calling China a market important to Latin American countries, Duque expressed Colombia's hope to expand exports of agricultural products, including coffee, flowers and beef, to China and provide Chinese consumers "with the type of flavors they are searching for."
He said that Colombia is open to discussion on the Belt and Road Initiative, hoping to form a bilateral plan to guide the development of Colombia-China ties for the next 40 years.
Duque welcomes investment from Chinese enterprises into projects of ports, airports and roads in Colombia.
"Having better connectivity, that's why we want to have direct flights from Shanghai to Bogota, and also from Beijing," he said. "I consider that we can match both visions, and with that strengthen the diplomatic bilateral relationship."
The aggregate investment Colombia received from China is still "very small," considering the size of both economies, Duque noted, saying Colombia is pushing hard to attract greater investment from China so as to accelerate the economic growth of both countries.
Currently, the annual number of Chinese tourists to Colombia is only 15,000, a "very low" figure according to Duque, who expressed hope that the platform of Baidu can be used to boost tourism, cultural and academic exchanges between both countries.
The Colombian president also saw the possibility for cooperation in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IOT) to help further strengthen bilateral ties, noting that some Chinese companies are already working on IOT in Colombia.
Duque talked about how he felt about today's China compared with in 2005 when he visited China as a tourist and was "fascinated."
"It's even more fascinating today," he said, citing China's achievements in technology, urban development, smart cities, transport, and creative industry, among others.