Greek PM salutes 'a game changer'
Updated: 2014-06-20 07:18
By Xing Zhigang and Fu Jing in Athens (China Daily USA)
Pioneering investment in port by COSCO in 2009 'is just the start'
China's decision to invest in the port of Piraeus in 2009 has been described by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as a "game changer" for the future.
Samaras said he believes Chinese shipping giant COSCO's investment is just the start of strategic Chinese involvement in Greek infrastructure, aimed at turning Greece into a more functional gateway to Europe.
"We are now building on this, and we are trying to expand it further," Samaras told China Daily in an exclusive interview shortly before Premier Li Keqiang began a three-day visit to Greece on Thursday.
Li arrived in Athens in the afternoon and later met with Samaras. The two leaders witnessed the signing of a number of economic and cultural agreements.
The two countries signed more than 20 government and commercial agreements worth $7 billion covering sectors including logistics, energy, shipping and property. The deals also included trade in wine and olive oil.
They decided to set up cultural centers to facilitate cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
A memorandum of understanding on maritime issues was signed to promote cooperation on ecological protection, resource exploitation and marine surveys.
Li's visit follows one to China by Samaras last year shortly after Li took office.
Samaras said that since his visit, China and Greece have progressed on infrastructure cooperation and Li's visit will accelerate this process.
"We began a closer working relationship last year, and it seems that we are advancing on projects mutually beneficial to both of us and beneficial for both China and the European Union as a whole."
Samaras said Greece is best positioned to be the "gateway" to Europe for international trade with the Far East and Middle East, but this requires investment in a number of infrastructure areas, including major ports, highways and railways.
He said Greece has seen a "breakthrough" in the port of Piraeus, where the pioneering investment by COSCO in 2009 has proved a big success.
For investors, he said a number of privatization schemes in Greece are candidates for the "next concrete steps", including railway projects and airport hubs.
"We have already made a good start with Piraeus. Now there are plans to expand in many directions."
Samaras said both countries have identified a number of areas of mutual interest and have an ongoing process for discussing specific investment plans and trade agreements.
"We are moving step by step, but we are making tangible progress and we are building a solid relationship with enormous prospects for both countries," he said.
Samaras said shipbuilding is another area of mutual interest, along with the maritime industry in general, with 15 percent of global sea trade conducted by vessels under Greek ownership.
"And tourism, of course, is an area of cooperation that is already expanding, with a very high potential."
He said Greece is the home of the "Mediterranean diet", and a range of Greek agricultural products - raw, processed and manufactured - can be introduced to the Chinese market. These include extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese, "excellent" wines and various herbal products.
Samaras, who was born in 1951, will mark the second anniversary of his taking office on Friday, when he will be joined by Li.
Samaras said several countries had stood by Greece during the difficult times after the global financial crisis. "China was one of them. I cannot express how much we appreciate that and how grateful we are," he said.
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(China Daily USA 06/20/2014 page1)