NEWS

Chinese premier pledges to back Greek recovery

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged sorely needed investment to Greece’s debt-ridden government during an official visit to Athens over the weekend that culminated in the signing of several agreements in sectors ranging from shipping to tourism. On the first official visit to Greece by a Chinese head of state in 24 years, Wen said his country planned to double its annual trade volume with Greece to 5.8 billion euros by 2015 and heralded the creation of a 3.6-billion-euro fund to help finance the purchase of Chinese ships by Greek shipping companies. He added that China would purchase Greek government bonds when the country returns to the markets. «China will participate in the purchase of new Greek bond issues,» Wen told a joint press conference with Prime Minister George Papandreou, noting that these investments would form part of «a big effort to support the eurozone economy.» Papandreou said Wen’s pledges – and a plethora of deals signed between Greek and Chinese ministers over the weekend – were tantamount to a «vote of confidence in Greece.» The Chinese premier arrived in Athens on Saturday with a large delegation of ministers and businessmen, including Captain Wei Jiafu, the chairman of shipping giant China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) and China’s central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan. Athens is the first port of call on a tour that is to take Wen to Brussels, Rome and Ankara. Wen made clear China’s ambition to flex its muscle in the region of the European Union. «Hand in hand, the EU and China can reinforce their cooperation and tackle this crisis,» he said. One of the most significant deals signed between Athens and Beijing foresees the expansion of Cosco’s presence at Greece’s main port of Piraeus with the aim of transforming it into a regional hub for Chinese exports toward Europe. Last year Cosco secured a 35-year concession deal to run the two main container terminals at Piraeus. The aim is for the number of containers passing through Piraeus to rise from 800,000 this year to 3.7 million in 2015, Wen said. The Chinese premier, whose three-day visit to Athens concludes today, was shown around the container terminals at Piraeus on Saturday evening and addressed Greece’s Parliament on Sunday before meeting with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias.