Interview: Strengthening Sino-Greek cooperation our strategic choice: Greek PM

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The enhancement of Sino-Greek cooperation is a strategic choice, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Xinhua in a written interview here before departing for his first official visit to China from July 2 to July 6.

"Our peoples have a long history and ties for thousands of years. Based on our traditionally excellent relations, we consider the strengthening of our bilateral cooperation, which has been governed by the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership since 2006, our strategic choice," he told Xinhua on the development and prospects of Sino-Greek relations.


The visit to Beijing and Shanghai marks the "mutual will of Greece and China to take a big step forward starting with our outstanding cooperation in the port of Piraeus at the base of a new mutually beneficial agreement and the conclusion of the Maritime Cooperation Year," the Greek premier said.

The visit marks the mutual will to "truly become strategic partners with upgraded trade and investment relations in a series of sectors, but also to develop a new level of political dialogue at a very critical juncture in international and regional developments," he noted.

"We seek the upgrading of the political dialogue with China on international and regional issues of mutual interest, for which we very often share common approaches and principles. The Mediterranean and the Far East may be far away geographically, but in a globalized world, the challenges we have to face are often common and increasingly interlinked," the Greek leader said.

"Secondly, we look forward to a closer cooperation with China in the economic sector -- a partnership with a global economic power," he stated.

Bilateral trade relations are already at a very good level, he noted, explaining that the Greek government aims particularly at further increasing the already significant exports of Greek products in the large Chinese market, especially in the agro-food sector as well as boosting Chinese investments in Greece -- mainly in transport and infrastructure.

"The expansion of cultural and educational exchange, the transfer of new technologies and the increase of tourist flows, with the launch of direct air link, are also among our immediate targets," he added.

Asked on the agenda and expectations of the visit to China, the Greek premier highlighted that it comes at a crucial time for the development of the Greek economy, but also in a difficult time for the international community and the European Union.

With a view to promoting bilateral relations, the two sides will discuss the content of the Sino-Greek strategic partnership and specific political issues that concern Greece and China, he said.


Regarding bilateral collaboration under the framework of the "Belt and Road" initiative, Tsipras underlined that Greece's geographical and geo-strategic location makes the country a gateway for Chinese products and a bridge of understanding and trust between China and Europe.

The Greek government's plan to make Greece a transit hub and the "Belt and Road" initiative converge can lead to mutual benefits to both sides in the maritime, air and inland transport sector, in logistics, but also in processing, he said.

As both Greece and China are maritime nations it is natural to consider cooperation between our two countries in the shipping and transport sector, critical, he stressed, noting that in this context 2015 was declared as Year of Greece-China Maritime Cooperation.

Tsipras said more than half of the seaborne transfer of oil imports, raw materials and consumer goods to China is carried out by Greek-owned ships, while Greek ship owners are the second largest customers of Chinese shipyards. In parallel, Greece has competitive expertise in the fields of ship repair and production of marine equipment.

"Our cooperation in the field of port infrastructures, commencing from the successful presence of China COSCO Shipping at the port of Piraeus, is a typical example of the possibilities for cooperation which lie ahead of us," he stated.

"In addition, given how much Chinese people appreciate the Greek history and culture, there is equally remarkable dynamic to increase the number of Chinese tourists visiting Greece through the launch of direct flight connection," he added.


Referring to bilateral cooperation at Piraeus port, the Greek leader stressed that COSCO Shipping's investment in Piraeus has made the port one of fastest growing ports in the European area.

"The Greek side welcomes the Chinese interest for new investments in infrastructure of strategic interest in the transport sector, which was certified by the purchase of a majority stake in OLP (Piraeus Port Authority or PPA) by COSCO Shipping," he said.

On Thursday, the Greek parliament ratified with an overwhelming majority the landmark concession agreement with China's COSCO Shipping for the acquisition of a controlling stake in PPA.

"We expect that this presence will contribute both in funding and know-how, which are necessary for the development of the port and the upgrading of its position in the international transport sector," Tsipras said.

This prospect is linked with the broader prospect of linking the port of Piraeus to Budapest, through a rapid railway line which will minimize times for the transfer of products to central Europe, he explained.

These projects upgrade both the role of Piraeus to a combined transport center as well as the wider region, focusing on the Thriasio Plain, he noted, referring to plans to create a major center for the transshipment of commercial goods unloaded in the port of Piraeus to the rest of Greece and other European countries.

"It is undoubtedly a mutually beneficial cooperation, since it can ensure both better access in Europe for Chinese goods, as well as inward investment and job creation in Greece. Moreover, the synergies between the trans-European networks and the land and maritime Silk Road 'Belt and Road' consolidate the international role of Piraeus as a geo-strategic knot between Europe and Asia," the Greek leader underlined.


Addressing the refugee and debt crises, Tsipras noted that Europe faces three parallel crises -- economic, refugee and security -- which test its endurance.

"Indeed, Greece has been the focus of the first two crises, for reasons that often exceeded our country's responsibilities and will, such as its geographical position at the EU external borders. Nevertheless, Greece has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness and ability to respond and deal with crises, committed to its values and producing results," he said.

"Despite the given budgetary constraints, we mobilized the state mechanism, we coordinated with the citizens and the social organizations and we were able to manage refugee flows which very often exceeded the numbers of the local population with respect to international law, human rights, security, and responded effectively and humanely to the challenge of the refugee crisis," he said.

Tsipras added that these actions, however, cannot address the root causes of the refugee crisis, which are found in Syria and the wider region.

Despite its size, Greece has taken a number of initiatives for consultation and cooperation in the region and supports the efforts for peace and stability in Syria, Libya, Ukraine and Afghanistan, he said.

"Moreover, we seek dialogue and cooperation both with our Euro-Atlantic partners and with global and regional forces such as China, Russia, Israel, Egypt and Iran, as part of our multidimensional foreign policy," he underlined.

Regarding the economic crisis, the Greek leader said that systematic efforts are made to overcome it.

"After a difficult negotiation, we achieved a viable agreement. We achieved for first time to open the dialogue on the sustainability of the Greek debt at the highest level, we are implementing a series of reforms, we have promoted a new investment law and the first results are already visible," he said.

"The economy and employment are recovering; the country is gradually restoring its credibility and soon we will be advancing with positive growth rates. Certainly, much remains to be done in order to recover our lost national wealth. But in any case, the hardest are behind us," he stated.


Concerning bilateral cooperation on regional and international issues when Greece and China have the same or similar standpoints, Tsipras stressed that "Greece as a member state of the EU and NATO can become a bridge of friendship and closer cooperation and understanding between China and the West."

"Respect for international law and the preservation of peace and stability are the basis for the strengthening of our cooperation," he said.

"In parallel, in a series of issues of special interest for each country, such as the 'principle of one China' for the Chinese side or the Cyprus issue for the Greek side, the common approach of the two sides is long standing. This common approach and the participation of Greece and China in important multilateral organizations make our broader collaboration even more necessary, fruitful and productive," he said. Endit

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