Greece may offer to China a European gateway

 (at the podium) José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (first from right), and Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council (first from left), went to Beijing where they participated in the 16th EU/China Summit with Li Keqiang, Chinese Prime Minister. This Summit marked the 10th anniversary of EU/China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and provided an opportunity to launch new initiatives to take the relationship with the country forward in the following decade.  (EC Audiovisual Services, 21/11/2013).


(at the podium) José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (first from right), and Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council (first from left), went to Beijing where they participated in the 16th EU/China Summit with Li Keqiang, Chinese Prime Minister. This Summit marked the 10th anniversary of EU/China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and provided an opportunity to launch new initiatives to take the relationship with the country forward in the following decade. (EC Audiovisual Services, 21/11/2013).

Chinese diplomacy delivered a good lesson to Europeans with the official visits of Premier Li Keqiang to Britain and Greece last week. In both cases the Chinese offered deals that the British and Greeks couldn’t deny. In London, the Chinese Premier got a deal with the Bank of England which appointed one of China’s largest banks as official Chinese currency clearing house in London. In Athens, Mr Li made sure that his country’s interests in the privatization of parts of the Greek transport system, including ports, airports and trains will be well taken care of.

Greece is privatizing its two main sea ports in Piraeus and Salonika and the Athens airport and is preparing two major concessions. One for a new airport in Crete, and another of a new huge project of rail transit and storage near Athens. This last project may change the way the unbelievable volume of the Euro-Chinese trade travels in both directions. Let’s see to that.

Euro-Chinese trade to change course?

A few years ago the Chinese giant group Cosco, a shipping, port management and logistics company won a 35-year lease to expand two main container terminals at the port of Piraeus in 2008. In a matter of a few years Cosco convinced major industrial groups producing in China and selling to Europe, that the rail trip from Piraeus to central and north Europe could be two or three days shorter than the standard route calling at West European ports.

The idea is that ships coming to the Mediterranean from the east through the Suez Canal and transporting goods for Europe could drop off their containers on a train in Piraeus and reach central Europe in a day and a half. The other option is to cross the entire Mediterranean Sea from east to west, gain the Atlantic Ocean through Gibraltar, and reach the north European ports in Rotterdam, Antwerp or elsewhere. The difference between the two options is at least three days. Of course at a large difference in costs.

In view of that, Cosco has been increasing its container business in the port of Piraeus at a breathtaking tempo and will soon make the Greek port the busiest of the Mediterranean. Today it is seventh in Europe. The Chinese company is about to invest $310m more in the Greek port to further expand its container activities in the port. The new investment awaits the Brussels clearance.

To Central Europe through Piraeus

Of course, the Chinese group has also expressed strong interest in acquiring the presently under privatization Greek public company which operates the entire port of Piraeus and is owned by the government. During last week’s visit of the Chinese Premier in Greece, it became apparent, that if the Chinese are finally the winners in the privatization procedure, then Cosco will undertake to revitalize the nearby degraded ship repair area of Perama. Li said that the port of Piraeus is “a pearl in the Mediterranean Sea” and added it “could become one of the most competitive ports of the world”. Naturally, he meant it under Chinese management.

Then it’s the airports, the one in Athens and the plans to build a new in Crete. For this last project there is an expressed vivid interest from two Chinese companies, the Shenzhen Airport και the Friedmann Pacific Asset Management. The Chinese Premier expressed his interest in both cases and his Greek host, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, commented that he was very happy to hear that. Both airports could serve as a gate for the millions of Chinese tourists wanting to visit Europe. In conclusion, the joint communique issued by the two Prime ministers noted, that “China attaches great importance to Greece’s unique geographic advantage of being a gateway to Europe.”

Last but not least, during the three days visit of the Chinese PM, the two countries signed 19 deals of a value of more than $6.4 billion ranging from shipbuilding to olive oil, wine and real estate.

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