China premier asks Greek PM to deepen cooperation on port

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (photo) has asked his Greek counterpart to support Chinas involvement in Greeces largest port, Beijing said Thursday, after Athens cancelled plans to privatise it.

But China refused to confirm reports that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit Beijing, after a Greek minister said the country may look to China for support if the EU refuses to play ball on a bid to overhaul Greeces bailout commitments.

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos warned Tuesday the country could ask for funding from China, Russia or the United States for support ahead of the expiration of its 240 billion euro ($270 billion) EU-IMF bailout at the end of February.

Li told Tsipras in a telephone conversation Wednesday that Chinese investment in the port of Piraeus has “helped create jobs”, the Chinese government said on its website.

“I hope the two sides abide by their commitments. China is willing cooperate with Greece… to convert the port into a gateway between China and Europe,” the website cited Li as saying.

“We hope the Greek government will provide better legal protections for Chinese firms in Greece,” he added.

According to the website, Tsipras told Li: “The Pireaus port project is very important to the Greek economy, and is a leading cooperation project between the two countries. Greece will give it more attention and support.”

The telephone conversation took place at the request of Tsipras, who told Li that he “welcomes the increase of Chinese investment in Greece,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying added at a regular press briefing.

Tsipras’ SYRIZA party announced last month that it would halt the privatisation of the port. State-owned Chinese shipping giant COSCO was one of the bidders.

COSCO through a subsidiary manages the two main container terminals at the port — one of Europes busiest — under a 35-year concession signed in 2008.

In a move to extend its control, the Chinese shipping giant was one of the bidders for the 67-percent share in the port authority held by the Greek state.

Ahead of Wednesday’s emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers — at which Greece set out proposals for an overhaul of its loathed bailout commitments — a Greek government source said that Li had invited Tsipras to visit China for a meeting.

But Hua on Thursday said she had “no information to provide” about a possible visit.

After six hours of talks, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the Eurogroup of eurozone ministers, said that “not enough progress” had been made and a new round of talks would be held.