Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Friday issued a joint statement pledging to boost strategic bilateral ties following a visit by the two men to Piraeus, where Chinese shipping giant Cosco is seeking to expand its presence and which Li said could become “China’s gateway to Europe.”
Following the signing of 19 bilateral trade and business deals, the leaders’ joint statement appeared to focus more on general ties between the two nations with both sides pledging to respect their respective positions on key issues of national interest. In Greece’s case, the Cyprus problem was referred to with both sides hailing the recent resumption of United Nations-mediated negotiations and looking toward a “fair and viable settlement as soon as possible.” The statement also expressed the intention of both sides to promote Chinese efforts to secure an investment agreement between Beijing and European Union.
As regards bilateral business, the two sides pledged to support and help each other in the financing, investment and trade sectors and to redress imbalances in trade relations, with Beijing expressing its commitment to boost imports of Greek products. The statement also noted the interest of Chinese businesses in participating in Greece’s program of privatizations.
Earlier in the day, Samaras and Li visited Piraeus in an appearance of high symbolism amid reports that Cosco is targeting the acquisition of a 67 percent stake in Piraeus Port Authority. In shirt sleeves and without ties, the two leaders both waxed lyrical about the port’s potential. Li described it as “the pearl in the Mediterranean” and said he was keen to work with the Greeks to make it “the most competitive port in the world.”
The Chinese premier also expressed Beijing’s interest in investing in Greece’s railway network in order to accelerate the transport of goods to Europe, noting that the use of Piraeus as a hub had already reduced the time it takes to transport Chinese exports to the EU by between 7 and 11 days. The development of the shipyard zone at Piraeus is another goal, he said.
According to sources, marine transport and shipbuilding topped the agenda of talks at a lunch given by President Karolos Papoulias in Li’s honor and attended by Samaras as well as several key cabinet members including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis. In a separate meeting with Li, Papoulias described the Chinese leader as “a great friend of Greece.”
Li and Samaras also visited the Acropolis and Athens’s National Archaeological Museum on Friday with Li describing the former as “wonderful.” Samaras is due to join Li on Saturday on the island of Crete where the Chinese premier is expected to reiterate Beijing’s interest in a new international airport near the port of Iraklio.