When you read this article, I will be about to board my flight back to Beijing at the end of my two-year-five-month mission in Greece.
Over the past month, while saying good bye to my Greek friends, one question was often asked: How, as a friend who loves Greece, did I view the country’s prospects?
My response: I am full of confidence about the future of Greece.
When I first arrived in Athens in August 2011, Greece was at the height of the debt crisis. The prevailing atmosphere was one of dismay, with many people questioning whether there was a way out. However, I held the belief that, for Greece, the crisis was but a small wave in the long river of thousands of years of history. After the storm, Greece was, once again, bound to impress the world with its vigor and vitality.
Greece has given mankind a splendid cultural heritage. The Greek people are known for their broad-mindedness and indomitable spirit. The current crisis has been marked by the Greek economy sliding by a quarter, consumption dropping 30 percent, and unemployment reaching a level rarely seen. In the face of such adversity, the cohesiveness and resilence dispayed by Greek society has commanded deep respect by others. A bright and powerful spirit is the most valuable asset for any nation. Undoubtedly, it will serve as a wellspring of strength for the Greek people to triumph over the current challenges and hardships and embrace a bright future.
The 21st century is one of opening up and global competition. A strong pioneering spirit is what makes Greece stand out in the family of nations. Greeks have always been respected as among the first to grasp trends, ready to brave the tide, good at drawing on the merits of all sides and able to work amicably with everyone, resulting in the optimization of its own strength. Since ancient times, Greece has been a center for shipping, trade and exchanges between nations. Nowadays, with new changes taking place in global production networks, the country’s geographical advantages as a crossroads connecting Europe, Asia and Africa have become even more prominent. The revival of the port of Piraeus and the trend shown by transnational enterprises such as Hewlett-Packard and Huawei give clear evidence that the time has come for Greece to do a good job transforming its location advantages into an effective competitive edge.
Encouragingly, through the years of severe crisis, rather than being weakened, some of the Greek economy’s competitive advantages have grown stronger. Greek shipowners have begun to order new vessels in serious numbers, further consolidating their leading role in world shipping. Greece’s tourism industry, like a bonfire in the depths of winter, keeps bringing pleasant surprises. The number of international tourists will mark a historic high in 2013. Success in developing new markets has significantly extended the tourism season in Santorini, Myconos and other destinations. Tourism is a fast-growing industry in the era of globalization. The World Tourism Organization predicts the number of tourists in the world will increase by 3.5 times in the next 20 years. McKinsey stated in its special report that 40 percent of Greece’s future growth is to come from tourism and related industries. As a matter of fact, the advantagous position that Greece is enjoying in this latest wave of global tourism growth is the envy of many the world over.
Greece has a population of 11 million – equal to 1/120th of China’s. “A small boat is easy to turn around, a small population is easy to feed well.” The current crisis, in essence, is a correction taking place at a time when Greece’s economic and social development has reached a relatively high level, in order to put the country on a more solid footing for long-term development. It’s gratifying to see that Greece’s endeavors to battle its way out of the crisis have been gathering strength. A consensus is emerging that Greece is close to the point where it can leave the dark shadow of the crisis behind.
“Everything flows,” the philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said two-and-a-half millennia ago. “Ten thousand years is too long a time, seize the hour, seize the day,” reads a verse of Mao Zedong that the Chinese are fond of. With these two quotes, I would like to say farewell to my Greek friends.
* Du Qiwen is the outgoing ambassador to Greece of the People’s Republic of China.