For Beijing, this Mediterranean trade hub is the showpiece investment for the globe spanning Belt and Road Initiative. But for Washington and its EU allies, it’s a worrisome foothold for Chinese influence in the West. Caught between two sides in a cold war, what will Greece do?
The union members were shouting, “No more workers’ blood!” at a protest at the Port of Piraeus, just outside Athens, on a warm weekday morning in late May. A worker had been killed in a scaffolding accident two days earlier, and the Metal Workers Union of Attica was directing its anger at China COSCO Shipping, the Chinese state-owned logistics giant that controls the Port.
Was the Port of Piraeus, notorious for crippling strikes and protests until the last decade, once again turning into a hotbed of dissent?
If anything, the protest proved the opposite. It was small maybe 100 workers showed up and a rarity. Chinese and Greek government officials consider Piraeus, which was a broken-down mess of a Port for decades, a showpiece investment in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s infrastructure-based global development strategy that is sometimes known as the New Silk Road.
Under Chinese ownership, Piraeus has emerged as the second biggest container Port in the Mediterranean and Europe’s biggest passenger Port.
It has allowed China to establish a firm foothold in a prominent European Union and NATO country, one that could be used to extend Chinese influence throughout the Mediterranean countries and into the Balkans.