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China, Greece deepen ties in economy, environment despite EU unease

High-level exchanges between China and Greece are in the interest of both countries and seek to advance their comprehensive strategic partnership. The meeting between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in late August in Beijing constitutes the most recent example.

Talking to journalists after this meeting, Kotzias revealed he had extended an invitation to his Chinese counterpart for President Xi Jinping to visit Athens. On his way to Brazil in July 2014 Xi had made a stop on the island of Rhodes and met with then Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras.

Irrespective of a potential visit by Xi to Athens in the future, the bilateral relationship is evolving fast. The investment by China’s COSCO Shipping Taurus in Piraeus Port is a flagship project. The Chinese company has transformed the port into a transshipment hub in the Mediterranean. Trade is being strengthened because the Chinese maritime company is able to handle numerous containers by installing modern equipment such as gantry cranes. COSCO recently presented a master plan to develop the Piraeus Port’s ship repair zone, logistics and the cruise sector. The implementation of the plan depends on how it is received by municipalities and local communities.

The Piraeus Port is the last stop of the maritime silk route in Europe. China is thus looking for practical ways for the maritime branch to be better connected to the land one. In particular, the potential launch of a high-speed train line connecting Piraeus with Budapest will contribute to fast transportation of commodities from the Mediterranean – via the Balkans – to Central and Eastern Europe.

The Greek track of this proposed train service will be undertaken under the management of the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato. This means that the project will not be Chinese per se but one where companies from different countries will collaborate.

As far as energy is concerned, China’s State Grid has been a strategic stakeholder in the Greek Independent Power Transmission Operator since June 2017. Moreover, two months ago, China Energy Investment Corporation, and one of the largest investment groups in Greece, Copelouzos Group, decided to join efforts in the green energy sector and the environmental upgrade of energy generating units. The two companies are expected to express joint interest for lignite units of the Public Power Corporation in Greece. Their collaboration – both in the green energy sector and the environmental upgrade energy generating units – aims to expand in the Balkans as well as in other European countries. This is another indication Sino-Greek relations are exceeding the bilateral dimension and gradually acquiring a regional scope in southeastern Europe and beyond.

Generally, China is largely seen in Greece as a potential investor that can finance new infrastructure projects and bring win-win results. In this context, Kotzias co-signed with Wang Yi a memorandum of understanding on inter-governmental cooperation for the joint construction of the Belt and Road initiative.

The EU – and principally Germany – do not welcome Sino-Greek synergies. In order to put pressure on Athens to reconsider its approach, both Brussels and Berlin have criticized it for undermining the making of EU foreign policy.

But Greece is only looking for opportunities to accelerate its recovery. It is not fair to accuse it of carrying out privatization and improving ties with China. It would be wiser for the German government to heed the principle of “know thyself” as it regularly applies double standards in foreign policy decisions.

Of course it’s not only about business. Wang Yi and Kotzias have initiated a significant cultural initiative. Approximately 15 months ago, they co-organized the first Ancient Civilizations Forum in Athens. The second one took place in La Paz, Bolivia, in July this year. The Sino-Greek ambition to create a permanent platform for dialogue – inspired by the respect for civilizations with an uninterrupted presence of thousands of years and continuous contribution to world development – is yielding results. Among other things, Greece and China believe in the Olympic Ideal and the idea of Olympic Truce.

Collaboration on culture can in the future be complemented by closer media cooperation, people-to-people exchange, academic visits and joint research projects as well as youth programs. The mobilization of the Chinese and Greek societies will – in the long term – provide a sustainable continuity to the economic bonanza.
Source: The Global Times

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