Diego Laxalt of Uruguay celebrates with teammates Sebastian Coates and Matías Vecino after scoring his team's second goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group A match between Uruguay and Russia at Samara Arena on Monday in Samara, Russia. Photo: VCG
Yesterday, I boarded a plane from Beijing to Chongqing to visit the headquarters of Lifan, a local automaker which owns its only assembly plant in the Americas in my country, Uruguay. As I usually do on these short trips around China, before entering the aircraft, I grabbed a newspaper to keep abreast of the latest news. After having checked it thoroughly, I realized that there was no news on Uruguay in its 30-odd pages. Of course, that should come as no surprise, for newspapers (be they international or national) rarely feature anything on Uruguay.
What made this more striking was that, the night before, Uruguay beat Russia at the men's football World Cup by a resounding score of 3 - 0. Thus, Uruguay finished the first round of the tournament having managed three consecutive victories out of three matches played; scoring five goals (including three by global stars Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani, both of whom won the China Cup last March) while holding our opponents scoreless; defeating African champions Egypt, hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.
This remarkable performance was not news, as it is not news that this tiny country of 3.4 million people and more than 12 million heads of cattle has won the Americas Cup for men's soccer a whopping 15 times (compared to the 14 and 8 trophies which have gone to Argentina and Brazil, respectively); made it to the World Cup semifinals four times (the most recent in 2010), and even won it twice in 1930 and 1950. Neither is it news that Uruguay hosted the first ever men's soccer World Cup in 1930, a feat now remembered at the Museum of the History of Football in Montevideo, the country's capital, ready for Chinese tourists to visit.
When the President of Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, visited China in 2016, he gave President Xi Jinping a replica of the historic stadium where the 1930 World Cup was played. This was a symbol of both friendship between the two countries, and also of an area (soccer) in which we would like to pursue further cooperation with China in the framework of the "Strategic Partnership" then established.
In spite of its small population, Uruguay's national team and its soccer clubs have accumulated an unsurpassed array of international titles. But why does Uruguay never make the news? I guess that might have to do with its robust political, economic, social and even geographic stability, which prevents the country from falling prey to the kind of catastrophes that we so often see in print.
My country's lack of visibility in traditional media has prompted our government and the Embassy of Uruguay in China to launch a campaign both around the world and in China to spread the message about the other "goals" which the country has scored in other areas of life besides soccer. Among these are some hidden, but nevertheless meaningful achievements, such as our being ranked 1st in terms of GDP per capita in Latin America and also having the most equal distribution of income in the region; outstanding performances in indices which assess freedom from corruption, the prevalence of the rule of law, and social inclusion; being the first country in the world to regulate the production, distribution and sale of cannabis and also being among the first to legalize same-sex marriage; and the recognition that Uruguay, along with Canada, earn the highest scores on international indices for democratic values in the Americas.
In 2017, Uruguay was the main supplier of beef to China, (and its award winning Tannat red wine provides the perfect accompaniment). We are also the fourth largest provider of soybeans to this country. This is excellent news for our Chinese friends not only for obvious commercial and industrial reasons, but also because high-quality protein may be considered part of the "secret" behind Uruguay's success at soccer. Today, the country is increasing the promotion of its superb dairy products in China, with a view to engaging with Chinese children, who by having them on a daily basis might as well be prepared to grow into future world champions.
Discreetly, without appearing in the news, this small South American champion is striving for the full integration of its economy with that of China. Furthermore, we are committed to deepening our friendship with China, which we believe constitutes a new example of how South-South cooperation can be pursued between asymmetrical, but highly complementary countries; this is indeed Uruguay's most important match to be played with China.
Of course, we would like to win the World Cup yet again, but our final goal is to be world champions in terms of building a comprehensive strategic partnership with this country. However, as Mr. Óscar Washington Tabárez, the manager of our national team, emphasizes time and again, it is only with genuine humility that we will be able to attain this, pursuing victory in each and every game, one by one.
Uruguayan Ambassador to China Fernando Lugris Photo: Courtesy of the Uruguayan Embassy in China
Fernando Lugris has been Uruguay's ambassador to China since 2015. The Embassy of Uruguay in Beijing and its Consulates General in Guangzhou and in Shanghai are inviting the Uruguayan community in China and friends of Uruguay in China to watch Uruguay's match against Portugal in the 2018 World Cup (Sunday, July 1, 02:00 am, China time) at Q-Mex Taqueria, Jinshang Shouceng, 20 Xinyuanli Xili in Beijijng; Morgan's in Guangzhou (No. 6 Huajiu Road, Zhujiang New Town, Poly 108 Mansion, 1st Floor); and Arsenal Club in Shanghai (Lyceum Building, No. 185 Yuanmingyuan Road, RockBund).