Greece calls on China to invest
Roughly at the same time that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was visiting the United States, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, also accompanied by a plethora of ministers, businesspeople and media representatives, was in China for high-level contacts with the new Chinese leadership. His main aim was to persuade the Chinese to choose Greece as their “gate to Europe” and to invest in a series of privatization projects scheduled soon as part of a major privatization program by the Greek government.
This was not the first time that Greek leaders had reached out to China in order to boost their economy. Two previous prime ministers, Costas Simitis and Costas Karamanlis, had made their way to Beijing and initially agreed on a series of projects which, though, did not bear the fruit that the Greeks hoped for.
Interestingly enough, Samaras is only the second prime minister of the EU to visit Beijing since Xi Jinping took over as leader, after French President François Hollande, who also traveled to China seeking to increase the trade relations of his country with the Asian tiger.
Samaras’ visit to China was important for various reasons. Besides its significant economic prospects, it aimed at also giving an important political message at home and abroad: that this Greek tripartite government is strong enough and stable enough to look beyond the tight terms of the IMF-EU-ECB bailout agreements that Greece has to adhere to for the following years.
And indeed, the general climate shaping up around Greece lately, as expressed by European and international circles, is somewhat good. There is an increased trust in the Samaras government, especially on the part of the Germans, although there are also concerns over the steep rise of fascism under the party of the Golden Dawn and the social consequences from the continuous fall of living standards. Samaras himself accepts that he has to win a difficult bet against all the odds.
On the other hand, the Chinese have not hidden their eagerness to expand their presence into European markets. They have already secured their business base in the southernmost port of Europe, the Greek port of Piraeus by buying part of the management of the port from the Greek government for 35 years.
“We are here to stay and to help accelerate development,” says the managing director of Cosco in Greece, although he complains that “Europeans believe that they have to enjoy life more and to ask for more holidays.”
Cosco is now interested in the port of Thessaloniki and other regional ports, airports and trains. At any rate, the Greek ship owners have already established strong relations with the Chinese and carry their products abroad.
A series of important tenders scheduled by the Greek government in the very near future is expected to attract high participation on behalf of the Chinese. Greece is hoping to attract more Chinese tourists by facilitating easier visa procedures and to export its own products like wine and olive oil.
“Whoever invested in the failure of Greece were disappointed,” said Samaras “We are fighting a battle; there is no other solution for us. Greece is writing its own success story, grexit is dead,” he declared. In the joint communiqué issued after the high-level meetings between the two sides, Athens and Beijing agreed to “intensify their cooperation in the areas of shipping, telecommunication, infrastructure and renewable sources of energy.”
If the prospects are good, the international climate is better. But the biggest challenge for Samaras will be the unity of its government – already serious cracks are showing over a delayed anti-racist bill between the coalition partners, whose popularity is falling dramatically. A scenario of a government reshuffle is likely and even the possibility of early elections, in which case Samaras may try to take advantage of the favorable atmosphere and even enhance the conservative profile of his party by seeking collaboration with conservative politicians outside his New Democracy in order to secure an increased vote.