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Greece fully committed to port, Tsipras tells Li

Updated: 2015-02-13 07:56
By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)

In phone call with premier, newly elected leader says country 'will not change' existing programs

Greece's newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras assured Premier Li Keqiang in a telephone conversation on Wednesday afternoon that his new government "will not change the nature" of existing bilateral programs, including the Piraeus Port project.

Analysts said the statement signaled a renewal of bilateral efforts to create a stronger hub for Eurasia trade routes. Li responded positively, expressing his hope that the two sides will follow through with their commitments, according to a news release on Thursday. He noted that the port project has not only created local jobs, but also has resulted in improved conditions for workers and better protection of their rights and interests.

Tsipras said the Greek government has made developing the relationship with China a high priority and welcomes "expanding investment from China".

The newly elected Greek government - dogged by domestic economic problems - was criticized in January for frustrating foreign investors over the port. It announced that it would halt the sale of a stake in Piraeus Port to China's shipping conglomerate COSCO Group and four other suitors, and it would review COSCO's stock purchase deal.

COSCO has a 35-year management lease for Piers II and III at Piraeus port that took effect in 2008, and it began running container terminals in 2009.

Cooperation between China and Greece at the port has been widely seen as a strong model. Greece's Alternate Shipping Minister Theodoros Dritsas said in late January that the new government will respect all deals signed with COSCO, a statement welcomed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Ding Yifan, an economist at the State Council's Development Research Center, dismissed recent speculation that Greece is breaking up China's investment.

"China is the only country that would offer tangible, needed help when Greece looked around the globe," Ding said. Greece's debt stands at around 175 percent of its gross domestic product. Tsipras has been touring Europe to seek support for his plans to ease austerity and lower the country's debt burden.

"With Greece preoccupied by the debt, there's little space left for considering future development. ... Attracting more investment from China will give a needed boost to its economy," Ding said. Tsipras told Li that Greece is ready to expand its cooperation with China in areas such as maritime affairs and shipping, and embark on cooperative projects such as infrastructure construction and finance.

The strategic significance of the port was boosted in November after China and Central and Eastern European countries agreed to build a Eurasia land-sea express passage linking the Greek port with landlocked Hungary. Li said China is ready to work with Greece and develop Piraeus as a first-class port in the Mediterranean and an important hub for the region.

The port will serve as "an important bridge for realizing the China-Europe land-sea express passage and boosting Eurasia connectivity", Li said. Given the influence of the future port to continental Eurasia, China's investment in Greece is "helping Europe", and Greece's geographical edge as a crossroads of the continent assumes even more importance, Ding said.

zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn

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