COSCO's Greek project becomes magnet for Chinese investment
China's ambassador to Greece, Zou Xiaoli (left), and the mayor of Piraeus, Yannis Moralis, visit Piraeus Port last year. Marios Lolos/xinhua
Piraeus Port development another step forward for the 'new Silk Road'. Fu Jing reports from Athens.
Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of reports focusing on the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, China's proposed extensive trading route linking Asia, Europe and Africa.
Traditionally, when Chinese and other Asian companies send exports to Europe by sea, container ships use routes through the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
However, a bottleneck usually develops and cargo can spend additional days in trucks or trains before reaching the final destination. Now, cheaper and faster alternatives are taking shape.
By making good use of the improved infrastructure at Piraeus Port in Greece, managed by the Chinese shipping giant COSCO, containers can be offloaded and directly transported by rail to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, via Skopje in Macedonia, and Belgrade, the Serbian capital.
The land-sea express passage, agreed by all the countries along the route, is serviceable, even though it moves relatively slowly because of outdated railway tracks and disruption caused by the number of refugees flooding into Macedonia.
The passage is just a small part of the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, that aims to better connect Asia, Europe and Africa by improving infrastructure and boosting trade and investment flows.
A woman walks as one of the three container terminals of the port of Piraeus is seen in the background in the suburb of Perama, near Athens, Greece in this March 5, 2015 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]
The Greek government has recognized how the initiative will help the country realize its national strategy of becoming a transportation, energy and economic hub for the Balkans, the Mediterranean region and North Africa.
That will attract more Chinese investment in infrastructure to accelerate development. A high-speed railway has been planned to link Budapest and Belgrade, and the Greeks are considering a similar project.
Stergios Pitsiorlas, Greece's vice-minister for the economy and development, said China and Greece are working together. Next month, they will sign a three-year action plan to further attract inward investment and achieve synergies between the initiative and Greece's development strategy.
"The action plan will be signed when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attends the Belt and Road Initiative Forum for International Cooperation (in Beijing) in May," he said, during an interview with China Daily in Athens.
The action plan will demonstrate how the Belt and Road Initiative perfectly matches the Greek government's strategy for a multidimensional role in the region.
"I think the synergy of the initiative and Greece's development strategy will open a new page of bilateral cooperation," Pitsiorlas said.
Zou Xiaoli, China's ambassador to Greece, said the two sides are putting the final touches to the cooperation document, and China greatly appreciates Greece's support and active participation in the initiative.
Zou is confident that Greece will not only emerge from its Eurozone debt crisis, but will also play a more important role in regional peace and stability by implementing its strategy.
"This is in line with the interests of not only Greece, but also China and the European Union," he said. "Sino-Greece cooperation also has a bearing on Sino-European cooperation and cooperation between different regions of the world, which has important and far-reaching significance."
Though China's investment in Greece is still small compared with flows from Germany, France and the United Kingdom, Pitsiorlas believes the future will be successful, especially with the arrival in Piraeus of the shipping giant Cosco.