Samaras Sees Greece-China Partnership

ATHENS – Increasingly looking toward China to help bail Greece out of a crushing economic crisis with more investments, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the two countries are poised to become valuable partners,

In an interview with the Chinese news agency Xinhua, Samaras said that Greece is now “an island of stability” in an area that is experiencing a wave of destabilizing geopolitical events.

In terms of both economics and politics, Greece has “greatly improved its credibility vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and it is now unleashing its growth potential,” he noted.

“So yes, we are now in a much better position – actually better than ever – to become a valuable partner for China in our part of the world,” Samaras stressed, noting that Greek-Chinese bilateral relations have been improving for many years.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Athens and Crete in June and President Xi Jinping’s trip to Rhodes in July boosted the China-Greece strategic partnership, which is established on cultural affinity, friendship, respect and the the ancient history both have, Samaras said, according to the Xinhua, which frequently reports on Greece’s economic crisis.

This cultural and psychological background is essential for a positive bilateral relationship to evolve into a strategic one, Samaras added.

Referring to investments, Samaras said the Greek government would encourage Chinese involvement in all projects that can help develop Greece into a “gateway” between China and Europe. China, with its company Cosco operating much of the port of Piraeus, already has a strong presence in Greece and is looking to expand its interests.

“Greece is not just another partner for China. It can well become a strong ‘link’ between the European Union and China as well as a ‘gateway’ of commercial and cultural relations between China and Europe,” he noted.

“We know that there are some problems for the improvement of commercial ties between China and Europe. But things are improving and as a European leader I am doing my best to help surpass all current problems and all outstanding obstacles between China and Europe,” Samaras said, referring to a recent example of the “constructive role” Greece has played to bring the two sides closer.

A few months ago, with the contribution of Greece which held the Presidency of the European Union Council in the first half of 2014, a foreign trade conflict was avoided over the dispute about imposing anti-dumping measures on Chinese photovoltaic products, the Athens News Agency reported.

“We strongly believe that Europe and China have a lot to gain by improving their commercial ties based on a balanced approach of honest negotiation and mutual benefits,” Samaras said. Besides economic ties, he said that Greece can also play the role of a “cultural bridge” between China and the West.

He noted that both Greece and China cherish and take pride in their unique cultural heritage for a very good reason: The Chinese culture has significantly influenced the cultural evolution of Asia for centuries and the Greek culture has been the cradle of Western Civilization.

“So we are not only talking about cultural exchanges. We are also talking about establishing a ‘cultural bridge’ between East and West. A bridge of mutual understanding and one that can bring together cultural traditions that are so different and so similar at the same time,” he said.

He encouraged peoples from both countries to learn each other’s language and delve more into their histories.  “This will have an impact on Europe, beyond Greece itself. It will open the ‘gate’ and will build the ‘bridge’ for the whole Western world to better understand the Chinese culture,” Samaras underlined.

Following the first Chinese Confucius Center in Athens, a second ill be opened soon in Thessaloniki in northern Greece. A new Department of Chinese Studies will also be opened at the University of Athens in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Greek government has been trying without much success to fix the bureaucracy surrounding visas for Chinese who want to visit the country, and has offered residency permits for those who buy expensive properties.