ATHENS – Athens and Beijing took steps on Monday towards boosting their trade relations at a time when Greece seeks to attract foreign investment and China hopes to expand its presence in Europe.
During his first visit to the European country, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Greece and China were “natural allies” in the Belt and Road Initiative, a project that aims to connect Asia with Europe.
“We want to boost the transit role of the port of Piraeus, expand trade, increase investment in energy and banking,” Xi said in a joint appearance with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Leaving ideological differences aside, the conservative Greek leader said he was “satisfied” by the geostrategic importance that China would give his country.
The counties signed 16 agreements in total, some of which will be key to opening the door to investment, such as the establishment of two branches of the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Greece.
The two banks, along with the European Development Bank, are expected to contribute 60 percent of the capital needed to carry out the expansion of the port of Piraeus, which has been in the hands of the Chinese company Cosco since 2008.
Last month, Cosco got the green light for a 612 million euro project to expand the cruise terminal and build a new passenger terminal, car park, logistics area and several hotels, although it has not obtained permission for a new container terminal.
A third part of the plan, whose original version exceeded an investment of 900 million euros, is restricted by the Central Archaeological Council, which requires some parts of the port to be declared archaeological sites.
Mitsotakis said the goal was for Piraeus to become one of the largest ports in Europe.
Among the memoranda signed Monday was one relating to a project to set up an electric cable car between mainland Greece and the island of Crete in which China would like to be involved.
Crete generates its energy through two thermal power plants that are insufficient.
China plans to offer Crete technology for a renewable energy plant, a project named MINOS 50KW, which aims to bolster the islands energy autonomy.
In relation to the food industry, the governments signed an agreement to allow the export of Kozani saffron to China.
Greece can also now export kiwis to China from anywhere in its entire national territory – until now there had been restrictions.
The two nations traditionally have close relations, not only commercially but also culturally.
Xi’s trip to Athens was the first stage of a tour that will end in Brasilia.
In Brazil the Chinese leader will participate in a summit of the BRICS, a block of emerging markets that groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa together.