Greek PM’s visit to China yields results on first day

The first day of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s visit to China ended on Thursday with the promise of greater trade between the two countries and with one Chinese company signing an agreement to carry out research and development in Greece.

Samaras held 45-minute talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after the Greek leader was greeted with military honors at the Great Hall of the People.

“Both our cultures have made significant contributions to the progress of humanity,” Samaras said, adding that Greece and China are ancient civilizations that share “common culture and values.”

“Other peoples count time in years and decades, the Greeks and Chinese count it in centuries and milllenia,” said the Greek premier, who set out how the government is trying to improve the country’s economic fortunes. He said China could be part of a “Greek success story” and stressed Greece’s vital geostrategic position.

“Your visit to China will help advance political trust, real cooperation and cultural ties between Greece and China,” said Li.

As the day panned out, it indeed appeared that there were grounds for the Greek side to be hopeful of returning from China with breakthroughs on trade and investment. Li suggested that there was ample potential for Greek exports to China to increase, particularly with regard to medicines, olive oil and marble. The two sides further discussed the prospect of Greece being a gateway for Chinese products to Europe, especially through the expansion of COSCO’s involvement in the container port at Piraeus. There is also Chinese interest in Athens International Airport and regional airports as well as other sea ports.

Samaras also met with the heads of a number of large Chinese firms, leading to the signing of several agreements. Chief among these was with network and telecommunications company Huawei, which agreed to create a transit logistics hub in Greece and to set up a research and development center over the next three years that would cooperate with Greek research centers and high-tech companies. Telecom equipment firm ZTE also agreed to create a hub in Piraeus from which it could ship its products to Europe.

Also, the head of Greece’s privatization agency (TAIPED), Stelios Stavridis, signed a memorandum of understanding with China Development Bank to promote Greece’s sell-off program in the Asian country with the aim of attracting Chinese investors. Invest in Greece CEO Stefanos Isaias also signed an agreement with the bank to cooperate in areas such as tourism, real estate, telecommunications, logistics, energy and the funding of investment projects. According to the deal, China Development Bank will promote investment schemes to Chinese businesses and then finance their involvement in them.

Samaras, who has been accompanied by about 60 Greek businessmen on his trip, is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday. He will leave China on Sunday.