China, Greece should enhance ties in all areas to excellent level of political bond: senior Greek diplomat
Published: Jul 14, 2022 07:39 PM
Editor's Note:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Greece. Over the past half century, the two countries have forged a friendship and close cooperation in a wide range of fields including investment, trade, tourism, and culture. In 2018, Greece joined China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), under which the two countries have seen a mutually beneficial strengthening of bilateral ties. 

This year, Greece, which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896, also showed support and appreciation for China's hosting of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games. 

Global Times reporter Xie Wenting (GT) interviewed John Chrysoulakis, Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of Greece's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on bilateral ties and future cooperation.

John Chrysoulakis

John Chrysoulakis

GT: In what areas can China and Greece further enhance cooperation amid the global pandemic? How do ordinary Greek citizens view cooperation between the two countries? 

Chrysoulakis: Please allow me to note, at the beginning, the need for upgrading and aligning or converging our economic relations with China with those in the realm of politics and institutional settings. We would like to see increased Chinese investments in Greece, especially in the sphere of production and not just in the areas of distribution of goods and services. We also hope to witness more Chinese investments, not only from state-owned companies, but also from the private sector. There is a wide range of investment opportunities in Greece under the BRI MoU of 2018 and in the already signed Cooperation Plans in Key Areas between Greece and China, in areas such as industry and manufacturing, financial services, as well as in the field of energy where Greece is emerging as a regional energy hub and is a regional renewable champion. 

Greek public opinion looks at Chinese investments favourably, largely thanks to their success and the timely assistance extended to Greece especially in the past decade. We do hope that this investment trend will bounce back strongly after the pandemic and will include more investments in sectors such as manufacturing and industry, the health and pharmaceutical sectors, and tourism infrastructure among others.

Trade is also a core area in our bilateral relationship with China and we need to commonly explore ways of balancing the current trade deficit with China. We need better access to the Chinese market, less barriers, and a more level playing field with higher volumes of tradable goods from primary sectors in the Greek economy, such as quality agro-food products. This is especially important at this point in time, as there has been a growing awareness among the Chinese public about the benefits of a healthy diet, such as the renowned Mediterranean diet. 

We are also very much aware of the fact that much more needs to be done in order to render our relationship with China in the fields of tourism, culture, creative industries, and education; this will be instrumental in further advancing our economic relations as well.

GT: The Olympics began in ancient Greece. How would you evaluate China's performance in hosting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics amid the pandemic?

Chrysoulakis: As Greeks, we take pride in the fact that Athens was chosen as the place for the first Modern Olympics back in 1896 and also that our capital was, once again, the host of the 2004 Games. Beijing on the other hand, is in the enviable position of being the first "dual Olympics city," having hosted both the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Games. This places a great responsibility on the city of Beijing, its people, and on China as a whole as far as the development of Modern Olympics is concerned.  

By hosting the Winter Games, China, once again, successfully demonstrated the country's rich experience and competence in successfully organizing sports events of global significance. Prior to the Games, we had all taken note of the main message of the organizers, aiming to deliver Green, Inclusive, Open, and Clean Games. This promise was successfully delivered. We all noted the systematic efforts of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games organizers to popularize winter sports; we were amazed by the thousands of Chinese volunteers who amply demonstrated their spirit of commitment and enthusiasm. An important legacy of the Beijing Games, as it has happened in many host cities in the past including Athens in 2004, was the upgrading of the interconnection networks in the broader area of the Games. Last but not least, the Beijing Winter Games underscored the significance of the concept of environmental sustainability in the organization of international sporting events.        

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games evidently brought our peoples and nations together for yet another time. Greece's presence, as expected, was even more significant in symbolic terms: As the cradle of both Ancient and Modern Olympics, Greece once again brought to the Games the spirit of the Olympic Values of friendship, excellence, respect, courage, determination, inspiration, and equality. This was evident in a series of events such as the always inspiring lighting of the Olympic Flame in Ancient Olympia, the organization in Beijing of cultural events under the auspices of the Secretariat General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, including, among others, a Benaki Museum exhibition about the 1896 Athens Olympics at China's Millennium Monument. A highlight of the opening and closing ceremonies was also the inclusion by the Chinese organizers of a choir of 40 young children who sang the Olympic Anthem in Greek, a most touching and memorable event which was widely acclaimed. I wish to avail myself of this opportunity to publicly thank all those who were involved, the children and their teachers, as well as the director of ceremonies, Mr. Zhang Yimou. 

Athens, Greece Photo: VCG

Athens, Greece Photo: VCG

GT: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Greece. Looking back on the past 50 years, what impresses you the most in the bilateral relations? How do you evaluate bilateral relations over the past 50 years?

Chrysoulakis: Greece and China, on June 5, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between our countries.  The long trajectory of China-Greece bilateral ties is underpinned by numerous landmark events. Please allow me to focus on the field of cultural ties, a major facet of our bilateral partnerships with numerous events and exchanges providing strong respect and firm trust in China-Greece relations. 

Recently, in February 2022, Beijing became the first city in the world to have hosted both the Winter and the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, following the memorable 2004 Athens Olympics. The Beijing Winter Games have once again brought our nations and peoples closer. These sports mega-events opened up further channels of close communication and cooperation between our countries; they significantly boosted the image of Greece in China as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of the Olympics. 

Cultural ties were further forged with the Cultural Year of Greece in China (2008) that was subsequently followed by the Year(s) of Cultural Exchanges and Cultural Industries Cooperation between Greece and China during 2017-2018, and the China-Greece Year of Culture and Tourism (2021-2022).  

In this context, I would also like to mention the Ancient Civilizations Forum, a Greek initiative (2017) actively embraced by China, comprised of several modern states as heirs of ancient civilisations with the  mission to preserve and develop their cultural legacies for the benefit of humanity.  

GT: What's your expectation for future ties? What can we expect for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations?

Chrysoulakis: Important lessons may be drawn from our long trajectory of bilateral relations. Much work has been done in different fields and a lot has been achieved especially in terms of creating with China an extensive network of institutional arrangements that underpin our bilateral relations. This includes the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership inaugurated back in 2006, which was subsequently strengthened in the context of numerous bilateral visits and exchanges; also the BRI MoU with China signed back in 2018 and the two Cooperation Plans on Key Areas signed in 2017 and 2019, and many other bilateral agreements. All this has provided resilience and dynamism in our patterns of interaction with China in many areas. 

Yet, much more can be done in order to streamline, refine, and re-orientate our bilateral relationship toward further practical ends in the post-pandemic era. Both countries need to address existing asymmetries and various challenges; this is particularly true in terms of further advancing our economic and investment relationship, and in bringing our economic ties into alignment with the excellent level of our political and institutional relations. 

At the same time, we need to work even harder in order to provide more substance and in-depth cultural and educational partnerships, and render them more effective in terms of serving other spheres of common interest in the realm of the economy. 

Similarly, people-to-people contacts and exchanges need to also be further substantiated with closer interactions and exchanges: We wish to see more Chinese people choosing Greece as a travel destination or as a place of actual and prolonged residence in the context of the existing Golden-Visa programs. 

Providing more substance and content in our relations in the field of creative industries, especially with regard to the creation of more Chinese quality audiovisual products in Greece, is also of great importance given the rich incentives offered by the Greek state over the last few years.