Greek Ambassador to China has high expectations for bilateral ties

By Yin Yeping Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/22 5:03:40

Greek Ambassador to China Leonidas Rokanas Photo: Li Hao/GT

The relationship between China and Greece is at an all-time high. The Global Times (GT) recently sat with the Greek Ambassador to China Leonidas Rokanas (Rokanas) who shared his perspective on Sino-Greek ties.

GT: This year is the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Greece. How do you view the past 45 years, and what is your perspective on the future?

Rokanas
: First, the foundations of our relationship, in mutual trust and confidence, come from the depths of more than 5,000 years of history. This legacy is the starting point for the profound trust and respect between our peoples.

We also have had a growing, very dynamic and promising development of relations in the last few years. China is a significant strategic partner. Most prominent political figures from Greece and China have exchanged visits in the past 45 years. Greek Prime Minister (PM) Alexis Tsipras has visited China twice in just 10 months, in 2016 and 2017, while Chinese Foreign Minister (FM) Wang Yi participated and actively supported the Greek initiative for the establishment of the Ancient Civilizations Forum when it was launched in April.

The 2017 Sino-Greek year of cultural exchanges was inaugurated last April in Athens during the visit of Liu Qibao, head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee.

The major event this year was the Belt and Road Forum, where Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and ministers, including FM Nikos Kotzias, were present. We have been furthering bilateral and people-to-people contacts, also with the Cities Forum in Beijing, and signed several important agreements in economic, financial, energy, cultural, media and judicial sectors.

GT: When you look at the current Sino-Greek economic and cultural relations, what aspects do you want to see changes in during your tenure?

Rokanas:
Starting with the Cultural Year, we are preparing exhibitions on Greek civilization in important museums such as the Palace Museum and Capital Museum in Beijing. We are also collaborating on archeological projects, including underwater archaeology and restoration. We are also strengthening collaborations between our national theaters and cinematographic industries. The collaboration between publishers and authors and the systematic promotion of translation of works is also essential. All the dimensions of our cultural cooperation were highlighted during the recent visit of Culture Minister Lydia Koniordou to China, who signed a memorandum of understanding on the Cultural Year activities (to be extended into 2018) and attended the Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo.

The cultural sphere is closely linked to tourism, a promising, cross-cutting economic sector for Greece, with huge potential, especially after the opening of a direct Air China flight.

In economic relations there is also important potential. Trade is increasing fast lately but still remains well below potential. We expect China to help us boost trade and to diminish the substantial trade deficit on our side. Recent numbers are encouraging: Our exports increased by 44 percent from 2015 until 2016, while imports to Greece from China increased by 13.1 percent. In the first seven months of 2017, Greek exports have boomed by 69.7 percent while trade totaled $2.69 billion.

Thanks to the stabilization of the Greek economy and substantial reforms, including positive GDP growth between 1.8 and 2.3 percent in 2017, Greece presents huge opportunities for Chinese and other investors. A significant part of the foreign investment in Greece comes from China, totaling $1.6 billion. Evidence of this is the milestone investment of China's major shipping operator COSCO in Piraeus, a significant strategic transportation hub, as well as in the investments of other companies such as Huawei and ZTE in ICT, as well as CMEC and State Grid in energy. The commercial real estate sector is also a very promising field, supported by a Golden Visa program.

Greece and China are also big maritime powers, and we will further develop maritime cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.

GT: Some have blamed Greece for embracing the advances of China when it comes to investing in Greece. What do you think of this allegation?

Rokanas:
Greece actively pursues peaceful and mutually advantageous relations with all countries. Our friendly relationship with China is of special importance and advancing quickly. For example, the Belt and Road Initiative is a very important strategic connectivity project that promotes not just economic, but also cultural and people-to-people exchanges. It does not dictate goals to participating states. Instead, it is about creating a new, open network of mutually beneficial relationships on an equal basis, and Greece wishes to actively participate in its construction. This is by no means antagonistic to any existing relationships, but rather creates a dynamic which benefits all, including the triangular relationship with the EU and China. In fact, many other European countries are also actively participating in this plan. We also play a constructive role in our region as a pillar and paragon of peace, stability and prosperity. Our relationship with China creates no collateral negative effects. It is neither about geopolitics nor being power centered.

GT: What kind of investment opportunities do you recommend the Chinese seek in Greece or with Greeks?

Rokanas:
Three sectors are primed for collaboration and investments: infrastructure (transport and logistics, including railways), telecommunications, as Greece is also renovating its optical fiber network, and energy, one of my most urgent tasks. These priorities are based on very concrete agreements such as the recently signed 2017-2019 Plan on Key Areas of Cooperation, which is expanding further the broader context of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2006.



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