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Chinese investors look to Greece for opportunities in post-COVID-19 era

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-12-17 10:23
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Tourists from China pose for photographs on a cruise ship in Santorini, Greece. [Photo/Xinhua]

BRUSSELS-Preparing for a projected post-pandemic boom, Chinese companies are considering exploring opportunities in Greece as they see the Mediterranean country as a growth area after recovery from COVID-19.

During the pandemic, the Greek economy has shown strong resilience while the control and prevention of regional outbreaks have been managed in an orderly and scientific way, said Zhang Qiyue, Chinese ambassador to Greece.

"That has further improved the environment for economic development and also recovery, and has enhanced confidence among international investors in Greece," Zhang said during an online seminar on Nov 23.

Organized by the China Chamber of Commerce to the European Union together with the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Hellenic Trade Council, the webinar grouped a number of ministerial officials, top diplomats and business leaders from the two countries.

Kostas Karamanlis, Greece's minister of infrastructure and transport, said his country will be a leading player in the region thanks to its economic prospects after the pandemic.

He said that the EU Recovery Fund will help Greece return to pre-pandemic growth rates, as it offers an opportunity to invest in significant infrastructure projects in key sectors where the country has a geostrategic comparative advantage, such as logistics, railways, ports and airports.

Outlining the government's plans, the minister said that further upgrades at Piraeus Port, as well as ports in northern Greece, have helped enhance the country's position as a gateway into Europe for logistics and trade between Asia and the European continent.

Piraeus Port is now the largest container port in the Mediterranean and the fourth largest in Europe, a decade after China's COSCO Shipping acquired a majority stake in the port authority. The project has been seen as a win-win example as a result of the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the "17+1" platform, or the cooperation mechanism between China and Central and Eastern European Countries.

"I truly believe that Greece will be the new emerging destination in post-COVID-19 Europe for global investors as well as for Chinese investors," Zhang said.

The ambassador voiced hope that Chinese businesses will look into new areas such as green energy, innovation and e-commerce, especially as China is embarking on the path of high quality development and as Greece is restructuring its own economy.

Zhou Lihong, chairwoman of the CCCEU, said in the last decade Greece has been a key area for logistics, maritime trade and the shipping industry, noting that the digital economy, green and sustainable development practices are key areas for future cooperation, and they will offer more diversified complements to current projects involving Chinese groups like COSCO.

"The Greek market is relatively new for us, but we are very much interested in exploring opportunities here," said Li Jing, general manager of the international investment department of Legend Holdings.

Li's company, owned by computer giant Legend Group, now holds 90 percent of Banque Internationale a Luxembourg, the largest independent bank in Luxembourg, and has bought one of the top 10 salmon producers in the world.

Li said the over 1,000 companies that Legend Holdings has invested in will provide unique opportunities for Greek companies that want to go to China, while her company is also seeking expansion in Europe.

A friendly environment, supportive measures and openness to discussion are regarded as the company's top priorities when choosing a destination for investment, Li added.

Located in the Aegean Sea, Greece boasts a rich culture, charming scenery and is a well-known tourist destination. But for Chinese, the Aegean Sea has an additional meaning, as it is pronounced like the Chinese word for "love".

"The Chinese people have a natural affinity for the Aegean, and it is often a first choice for young Chinese honeymooners," Zhou said.

She added that Mediterranean cuisine has become popular in China as well. Once the China-EU Geographical Indications Agreement takes effect (at the beginning of 2021), many famous Greek agricultural products will have greater access to the Chinese market, she added.

The potential tourism sector boom seems more tangible as people in China, the world's largest outbound market, are eager to travel as had already been seen during the National Day holiday in early October when people traveled domestically amid contagion control efforts.

In 2019 alone, Greece recorded over 220,000 visits from China, worth around 300 million yuan ($45.8 million), registering a year-on-year growth of 86 percent, said James Tang, senior vice-president of Trip.com Group, a leading Chinese online travel service provider.

With about 300 million users, Trip.com will continue to invest in its operations in Greece and promote the European country as a high-end, unique and desirable destination for Chinese tourists, Tang said.

"When it is safe and proper to travel around the world, we look forward to working closely with destinations and local partners to introduce new business models," he said.

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