European Union worries that China is gaining too big a foothold and influence in the bloc have been set aside by Greece, which is still eager to get Chinese investors, who are just as keen on putting their money into Greece.
In a feature, Global Voices noted how the two countries are staying close to each other and also what it said was the influence of Greek shipping tycoons over the decades, with Chinese and Greek ships ruling the seas.
China, primarily its state-owned shipping giant COSCO, jumped into Greece when the company took over running the port of Piraeus and has been expanding it into one of the most used in the EU and one of the best after decades of mismanagement.
Even Greece’s former ruling anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA snuggled up to China and the current New Democracy is also reaching out for more Chinese business and tighter relations.
COSCO started in 2008 with the acquisition of a container terminal, culminating in 2016 with an acquisition of 51 percent of the company running the port, and likely to soon increase to 67, an entry point for China’s Silk Road initiative and plans to use Piraeus as a gateway to the EU.
A video by New China TV lauded the official Chinese and Greek “win-win” narrative, whereby COSCO gets to increase container throughput into Europe, and Greece turns into a “logistics hub,” said the feature report.
“Greece and China represent two of the most ancient civilizations in the history of humanity,” the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis telling the Greek-Chinese Business Forum in Shanghai in 2016 that, “China invested in Greece when others shined through their absence,” which he hasn’t forgotten.
That was in reference to Chinese influence during a nearly decade-long economic and austerity crisis that required three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($384.55 billion) that only increased Greece’s debt.
The Chinese ambassador to Greece, Zhang Qiyue, commemorated in November 2020 in an op-ed an event from the Cold War era: “In the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China Greek shipowners were the first to break the blockade and deliver much-needed supplies and equipment to China.”
That’s not been forgotten in China, even if today’s government there has a more pragmatic and less sentimental approach to business in Greece and the EU.
Then Premier and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said at a 2015 speech at the high-level One Belt One Road Forum, in Beijing that, “An increasing number of Greek shipowners build their ships in China, while our biggest port – is becoming a global gateway to Europe for products coming from Chinese and other Asian ports,” the report noted.
In a 2019 meeting in Shanghai with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mitsotakis said that “In ships’ supply chain, it is important to look at Greek businesses which have great know-how in ship supply and may cooperate with Chinese shipyards, so that this market can open up also in this respect. This will be a win-win solution for Greek producers, for Chinese shipyards and, naturally, for Greek ship-owners, who will continue to build their ships in China”.
Global Voices though said that “COSCO ended up in Piraeus through a synergy of Chinese interests and Greek shipping, years before Greece’s national debt crisis,” which overtook the country.
Konstantinos Tsimonis, Lecturer in Chinese Society at King’s College London, told the site that Greek shipowners, the world’s most dominant – just ahead of China – may be acting as a political facilitator for Chinese business in Greece.
“You don’t just go and invest like that: it matters who brings you and how embedded you are: local agents helped the Chinese navigate through the uncharted–for them–waters of Greek economy and politics.
COSCO can bring an issue to the Greek Parliament in 24 hours if it feels its investments are at risk. You can’t do that without strong local partners,” he said.