BEIJING - The launch of direct flights from Beijing to Athens will further promote economic and political ties between Greece and China, a senior Greek official said Monday.
Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis is in China on the occasion of the launch of direct flights from Beijing to Athens via Munich by Air China on Sunday. During his visit, China and Greece also signed a joint statement for facilitating the issuance of visas to each other's citizens.
The direct flights and visa arrangements will boost the number of visitors in two-way tourism and promote economic and political ties as well as people-to-people exchanges, Kouvelis told Xinhua.
"Last year we had a very small number of people from China visiting Greece," he said, referring to the fact that only about 10,000 Chinese visited Greece in 2010. "We want to increase that number very significantly."
The joint statement on visa facilitation reflects wishes of China and Greece to further strengthen bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, Kouvelis said.
The direct flights and visa facilitation are part of the implementation of agreements made during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Greece last October, he said.
During Wen's trip to Greece last year, the two countries issued a joint statement on deepening comprehensive strategic partnership, and inked 13 bilateral deals, which covered cooperation in maritime transportation, credit, telecommunications, trade and cultural exchanges.
"The launch of direct flights is important because it also came at a time when Greek people have understood that in China we have a friend in hard times," Kouvelis said, noting the strong message of confidence to the future of ailing Greek economy that China has repeatedly sent to international markets.
"The relationship between China and Greece is based on friendship and good mutual understanding," he said.
Kouvelis spoke highly of China's holding of Greek treasury bonds and its positive attitude toward further purchase of Greek treasury bonds, adding that China's message of confidence to the Greek economy is "one of the most important points of support that we have got."
Kouvelis said the Greek government is decisive to continue its efforts to exit the debt crisis.
Greece narrowly avoided default last May. With the support of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, it is implementing a three-year austerity and structural reform program to reduce its budget deficit and return to growth.
On Greece-China economic cooperation, Kouvelis echoed Chinese Premier Wen's hope that the two countries will strive to double their bilateral trade volume to 8 billion dollars in five years, adding that the two countries should boost bilateral trade and economic cooperation in sectors including maritime transportation, information and telecommunications, infrastructure building and new energy.
Kouvelis also spoke highly of Chinese shipping giant COSCO's investment at Piraeus Port, Greece's biggest port, where China and Greece are making joint efforts to build a major distribution center and transit center.