China’s Xi tells Petro that Bogotá Metro is not on Beijing agenda

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Bogotá Metro subway/Metro de Bogotá

Chinese President Xi Jingping has told Colombian President Gustavo Petro that discussions concerning the future of the Bogotá Metro will not feature on the agenda during the upcoming visit to Beijing scheduled for October 25. This statement, reported by Spain’s El País newspaper, reveals President Xi’s unwavering stance that the construction of Bogotá’s overland Metro Line 1 is the responsibility of local government and Chinese companies, rather than a “state matter”.

Colombian diplomats, however, maintain the importance of exploring the possibility of constructing an underground section for the first line of Bogotá’s Metro, issue that has repeatedly pitched the leftist President against Bogotá Mayor Claudia López.

The construction of the Bogotá Metro is being carried out by a consortium of the China Harbour Engineering Company and Xi’an Rail Transit Group. The Chinese representatives also highlighted that President Xi has no intention of addressing the changes to the agreement, and largest public works project in the country. “We will see what the Chinese head of state has to say about these issues, if he can assist us in transforming transportation in Colombia towards rail and electric systems,” stated Petro after announcing he will visit Xi this month.

Construction of the elevated Metro Line 1 has advanced 25% since groundbreaking in September, 2021. Mayor López argues that the President’s plan is economically and legally unviable, despite the national government’s claims that it could invest an additional COP$17 billion (US$5 billion) to bury a large section of the overland Line 1.

The Bogotá Metro falls under the Chinese government’s “Belt and Road” initiative, and one that has strained relations between the US administration of President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart. According to El Pais, a delegation of U.S. congressmen, led by Democrat Bob Menéndez, “warned President Petro of the risks associated with aligning with the Chinese government. They cautioned that accepting Beijing’s financial support could have long-term consequences.”

The news that Petro will visit China later this month to attract further investment in  transportation infrastructure comes with the opening of a formal investigation by Colombia’s Attorney General Office against Bogotá Mayor Claudia López and Senator Angélica Lozano on charges that the couple received bribes for contracts with the Metro consortium.

The investigation is based on an in-depth report by Semana magazine. On Monday, the country’s Comptroller General cited the two politicians to a preliminary hearing regarding the corruption claims. Mayor López has insisted the construction of the Bogotá Metro is one of complete transparency, and “no turning back.” The Mayor has reiterated on social media that the “Metro of Bogotá must be respected.”

The Chinese Embassy in Bogotá refuted the article from El País, calling the story “fake news” and mentioning in a statement that President Xi has placed no conditions for the Beijing talks with his Colombian counterpart. This, however, did not deter Mayor López from sending a direct message to President Petro during a keynote address in Bogotá, and his insistence on burying the PLMB (First Line of the Bogotá Metro). “It is not the ego of a leader on duty that is at stake,” stated López.