As Greeks went to the polls on Sunday debating the best way to tackle their economic crisis, politicians across the spectrum agreed that international investment will play a key role.
The shakedown [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
While images of protests in Athens against austerity have dominated TV news, measures to tackle the debt crisis have attracted far less publicity.
One of the measures, Fast Track, aims to streamline procedures for foreign companies investing in Greece. One possible investment that is sure to attract international attention, the country's public assets, have been valued at 15 billion euros ($19. 6 billion).
"We firmly believe Chinese companies might be interested in some of the privatized assets," Dimitrios Thomopoulos from the Greek Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs in Beijing, said.
Eager to reduce the nation's massive debt load, Greece's Inter-Ministerial Strategic Investments Committee approved new investments worth 5.6 billion euros on March 6 under the Fast Track program.
Five of the six approved projects (none of them directly involving Chinese companies) are investments in the energy and renewable energy sectors. The other, an investment in the gold mining sector by Thrace Gold Mines S.A., under the Canadian company Eldorado Gold, has been budgeted at 129 million euros.
In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Greek Ambassador to China Theodore Georgeakelos said there are many potential areas for Chinese firms to invest in and these have yet to be "exploited".
One of the ambassador's primary roles since coming into office has been helping to revive the Greek economy, and publicizing the investment benefits of various sectors, including research, technology, renewable energy and tourism.
"This is where we have a comparative advantage," he said.
"We have very good infrastructure, educated personnel, and legislation that is business and investment friendly. I think, like previous Chinese investment, new investments can be profitable both for the investors and the Greek economy," he added.
A China-based Greek economist expressed her optimism over the "one-stop office" aspect of the Fast Track program for investments over 2 million euros.
"This is a good time for foreign investors to consider Greece. Bureaucracy has been reduced and the investment environment and competitiveness have also improved," Pelagia Karpathiotaki, the president of the Institute of Economic and Cultural Action Greece-China, said.
At the end of 2011, China had $3.18 trillion in foreign reserves, the largest in the world. About 20 percent has been invested in euro-denominated assets.
According to Yi Gang, vice-governor of the People's Bank of China and head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, China will continue to invest part of its foreign reserves in European bonds.
But public concern has been expressed over the strategy.
Social media and micro blogs have voiced disquiet at the idea of bailing out rich European nations rather than fixing China's widening wealth gap problem.
"The Chinese government is pursuing a determined policy of developing various parts of China," Georgeakelos said, before adding that "there is a real need to diversify Chinese investments".
Yi told reporters last month that China is eyeing industrial and strategic assets, such as renewable energy and shipping, rather than Greek government bonds that are at high risk of default.
"For China, this is a way to help Europe at this historic juncture," Georgeakelos said. "Moreover, this approach allows Chinese leaders to avoid internal criticism of bailing out rich Europe."
To be considered for Fast Track, investments have to meet certain criteria, including job creation, be innovative and environment friendly.
Some Chinese companies have already invested in Greece. The most notable is Cosco Pacific, one of the world's largest shipping container companies. In October 2009, it took over operations at Greece's main port, Piraeus. It signed a 35-year lease in June 2008 and will spend $707 million in upgrading facilities to build new piers and triple the volume of cargo. This is expected to be completed in 2014.
There are also smaller Chinese investments in the pipeline. Chinese real estate company BCEGI Group and Helios Plaza signed an agreement in 2010 for the construction of a hotel and shopping complex in Piraeus next to the port. Chinese companies have also shown interest in Germany's Hochtieff's share in Athens airport, although nothing has been finalized yet.