Blocked by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA from renovating the port of Piraeus it operates, China's COSCO got approval from the new New Democracy for a modified $670 million scheme that won't include a mall as planned after local businesses complained about competition.
It's seen as a major coup for China in Greece as well after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to sign a new defense agreement deal and lambasted the way the the Chinese do business around the world.
“Take China … which is using economic means to coerce countries into lopsided deals that benefit Beijing and leave its clients mired in debt,” Pompeo said about China trying to increase its foothold in Europe, primarily through Greece.
But the okay wasn't a blank check as the government rejected nearly a third of what COSCO had planned for Piraeus, part of China's massive Belt and Road Initiative,
“Greece is trying to walk a fine line. (With this) China doesn’t lose face in the end because it keeps two-thirds of the expansion plan,” an unnamed Greek government source told the South China Morning Post. “We sorely need investments to boost the economy.”
“An emblematic investment for Greece starts immediately. A new era dawns for the Piraeus Port,” the Greek shipping ministry said, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency. The approval will allow COSCO to build a new cruise port, four hotels, a car terminal, and improve infrastructure and maintenance at the port.
But two other intended projects, worth about $300 million, were blocked: the extension of the car terminal to nearby Drapetsona; and the expansion of a container terminal while earlier reports said the mall would become an arcade accessible only to passengers of incoming cruise liners.
According to Greek media reports, Greece’s Chipping Minister, Ioannis Plakiotakis, said he was satisfied with the decision.
“The investments planned by are upgrading the Port of Piraeus and creating new jobs,” Plakiotakis said, adding: “The approval of the master plan proves that our country is investment friendly,” with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis moving as promised to get Greece going.
Piraeus Port Authority head Yu Zenggang applauded the Greek government’s decision, saying it was granted after “a long waiting period,” said Xinhua in an apparent reference to SYRIZA holding it back to satisfy local interests to win votes.
COSCO acquired a majority stake in the port authority in 2016 after winning an international tender. Its subsidiary, Piraeus Container Terminal, has managed the port’s container terminals since 2009.