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Will Greece ever seize its China opportunities?

Updated: 2015-07-12 14:47
By Fu Jing (China Daily Europe)

Tsipras has missed several chances to improve things, such as ignoring strategic programs led by Beijing

The "no" result in the Greek referendum on the terms of an international bailout on July 5 brings a Greek exit from the euro a step closer, whether Alexis Tsipras, the youngest prime minister in Greek history since 1865, wants it or not.

And with the haggling over the terms of Greece's debt repayments denting confidence and creating fears in the market, Greece has been slipping back into recession again.

In fact, since he was elected as prime minster on Jan 25, Tsipras, who has obtained global fame by quarreling with his powerful creditors, has failed to embrace a number of opportunities to give the flagging economy a shot in the arm.

The first big opportunity was when the European Central Bank launched its long-awaited quantitative easing program, which will last until at least September 2016. The measures have weakened the euro and lowered bond yields, boosting exports and economic growth generally in the European Union.

At the end of the first quarter of this year, officials in Brussels announced that the EU had finally left the financial crisis behind, although the situation in Greece remained pessimistic.

The Greek government has not properly grasped the opportunities of using a weak euro to attract more tourists. In contrast, the uncertainties brought about by Tsipras' brinkmanship over debt repayments have made many tourists wary of traveling to Greece.

The second opportunity missed has been the European Commission's investment plan, which aims to channel 315 billion euros ($348 billion) into the EU economy from 2015 to 2017. During his visit to Europe, Premier Li Keqiang said now China is considering matching its development agenda with this plan. However, Athens has been distracted from talking with Brussels about this because of the negotiations with its creditors.

The third opportunity he has missed is engaging China. When Tsipras was elected, some analysts said he should prioritize a visit to Beijing to sustain the investment and support China has been providing.

But mired in the debt crisis and the need to deliver on his election promises of raising wages and boosting pensions, Tsipras has so far failed to visit Beijing. Worse, he and his team have even ignored two strategic programs in which China has taken the lead.

The first is China's Belt and Road Initiative. With its geographical advantages and lasting friendship with China, Greece could take advantage of the push to create the new Silk Road, and seek Beijing's financial and other support to boost and upgrade its economy.

The second is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was officially set up at the end of June. Earthquake-hit Nepal are among the prospective founding members, but Greece is yet to apply to join this newly born multilateral institution for infrastructure investment.

The Greek government may be financially helpless but its unwillingness to agree to bailout terms means negotiations will drag on and it will delay taking any action on the two China-created opportunities.

After the referendum results, Tsipras claimed the no vote was a huge success and rejecting the bailout terms will strengthen their bargaining position. But again, he is not looking at the bigger picture. If he is keen to bring real growth, jobs and prosperity to Greeks, he needs to do solid homework on the above opportunities he has skipped and then grasp them.

Greece can still take advantage of these initiatives, but it would benefit more if it can agree to a deal with its creditors and remain part of the eurozone.

The author is China Daily chief correspondent in Brussels. Contact the writer at fujing@chinadaily.com.cn

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