China boosts regional connectivity via Greece in 16+1

By George N. Tzogopoulos 
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 16, 2018
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Greece [Photo/Xinhua]

A few days after the successful conclusion of the 16+1 summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, new business project opportunities in both the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe came to light. China is largely seen as a potential investor which can finance new infrastructure projects and bring win-win results for its state-owned enterprises and local societies. Greece – although only having an observer status in the 16+1 summits – actively participates in relevant business discussions and closely cooperates with China. 

Sino-Greek bilateral collaboration is gradually acquiring a regional character. Greece is an old EU member-state and is widely regarded as a pillar of stability in Southeastern Europe. Therefore, its relevance to the 16+1 scheme is unquestionable. On the same days of the Sofia summit, a significant business development took place in Athens. Specifically, the largest energy producer in the world, China Energy Investment, and one of the largest investment groups in Greece, Copelouzos Group, decided to join efforts in the green energy sector and the environmental upgrading of energy generating units. The two companies aim to work together in the Balkans and in other European countries. Beyond the important regional scope, future green energy projects can offer a satisfactory answer to Brussel's concern about the environmental impact of Chinese investments in Europe. 

Generally speaking, Greece constitutes the point of entry to the Balkan region for Chinese investments under the Belt and Road Initiative. To take full advantage of the Piraeus port, Beijing also invests in transport links across the Balkan Peninsula. Its plan is twofold. First, it is cooperating with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to prepare a feasibility study for the route and costs to modernize the railway. Second, it has already signed separate deals with Serbia and Hungary to construct and revamp the rail link between them. Commodities can thus reach Piraeus, and then be transported to and from FYROM to Serbia and Hungary by high-speed rail. The general project is not Chinese per se. An Italian company, Ferrovie dello Stato, will undertake the management of the Greek TRAINOSE in spite of some initial speculation that COSCO would have also submitted an offer in the relevant tender. 

Another theoretical project to potentially boost regional connectivity is the establishment of a vertical link between the Danube and the Aegean coast. This will enable a navigable route via the Morava and Vardar/Axios rivers. China's state-owned Gezhouba Group has expressed interest in exploring the viability of some sections of the canal, mainly in Serbia. Against this backdrop, Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in July 2017 to discuss the maritime corridor. Tsipras sees it as a "project of huge significance for Greece, Serbia and all of Europe that could change the geography of the Balkans."

Finally, there are two additional connectivity projects on the agenda that might attract Chinese interest. The first is related to a recent agreement between Greece and Bulgaria. Specifically, Tsipras and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov met in September 2017 and signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a high-speed railway, with hopes of finding foreign investors. This railway will connect three ports in Greece, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Alexandroupolis, with three Bulgarian ports, Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea and Ruse on the Danube. The second connectivity project that could attract Chinese interest is the future realization of the Vertical Gas Corridor between Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Hungary. The project aims to construct the necessary gas transmission system in view of natural gas transport to transit countries and the European market from Greece through the other three countries and vice versa.

Regional connectivity in the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe is being steadily enhanced with Chinese investment. As a result, countries in the region including Greece, approach China to mutually develop new projects. Through the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing deserves credit in strengthening regional connectivity in the "16" and beyond. 

George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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