While a 600-million euro ($668.49 million) overhaul of the port of Piraeus by a Chinese company is being stymied, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Beijing looking for more investments and saying Greece is the new path into the European Union.
Speaking at the Belt and Road Initiative Forum in Beijing, the Radical Left SYRIZA leader described Greece as a bridge and not a border between the West and the East and as a regional hub for growth gaining global influence, Kathimerini reported.
Ironically, much of that resurgence in Greece is because of the Chinese company COSCO operating Piraeus and wanting to further develop it but being blocked by an archaeological council ruling and local businesses not wanting any competition from a proposed mall.
The Chinese company Fosun also is a partner in a planned $8 billion development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport on Athens’ coast that hard core elements in Tsipras’ party are trying to block, not wanting foreign investments, and succeeding so far.
“For Greece it is clear that the aims of the modern Silk Road (initiative) are compatible with the regional economic goals that we have set and that we want to pursue, leaving behind the reliance and dependence on our creditors,” Tsipras said, adding that “cooperation and an outward-looking focus are the future.”
He said that Greece is exploiting its unique geopolitical location at the juncture of three continents as well as its role as a force with global influence in shipping and tourism,” the report added.
“We want our neighborhood, the southeast Mediterranean and the Balkans, not to be the border between West and East but the bridge,” he said, adding that the goal was for the region to become a “global hub for transport, energy and trade.”
He pointed to the investment by Chinese logistics giant Cosco in Greece’s largest port of Piraeus, saying that it would play a key role in this effort – without mentioning how the development is facing obstacles from his government.
“The port is developing into a global gateway to Europe for products coming from Chinese and Asian ports via the Suez Canal,” he said, adding that the goal was for it to be linked to transport networks towards the Balkans and eastern Europe.
Hailing the “new role” that Greece has assumed in the region, Tsipras said the country aimed to help boost ties between China and the European Union “in the context of international regulations governing trade and our commitments as a member of the EU.”
That came a couple of weeks after Greece joined a China-backed coalition of Central and Eastern European nations, the 16 + 1 grouping.
Feng Zhongping, the head of European studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, told The Financial Times that it made sense for Greece to become a partner.
“Greece has similar needs and demands in terms of cooperation with China as Central and Eastern European countries,” he said.
After fears among EU officials China was trying to unduly gain more influence, Feng said Beijing was now working hard to build trust in Brussels, seat of administrative offices for the bloc.
“China is trying to stabilize its relationship with Europe, making efforts to build trust and address concerns,” he said. “Both the recent visit to Europe by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Li’s trip are evidence that the EU’s concerns are being taken care of,” for now.