(BRF)Interview: Greece's interests are in full alignment with BRI: Greek FM

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by Yu Shuaishuai, Maria Spiliopoulou, Li Xiaopeng

ATHENS, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Greece's interests, as the country is building a new economic model in the post-bailout era, are in full alignment with the Belt and Road Initiative, Greek Foreign Affairs Minister George Katrougalos told Xinhua on Tuesday.

"We want to base the new economic model of our country to the comparative advantage that Greece has to be a kind of bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe," Katrougalos said.

The top diplomat made his remarks during an exclusive interview at his office in central Athens shortly before travelling to Beijing to participate in the upcoming second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation later this week, accompanying Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Katrougalos explained the reason he chose China to be among the first countries he visited as Greek Foreign Minister in March this year, is that the two countries enjoy probably the best ever level of bilateral relations and a full alignment of their economic interests.

For the upcoming visit, "I am going to discuss with my Chinese counterparts what Greece can do in order to promote the interests of both countries in this kind of mutually beneficial cooperation of ours," he said.

In recent years, the comprehensive strategic partnership between Greece and China has been deepened and expanded in many areas.

Greece values friendship with China, the Greek minister said. There is mutual respect between the two countries representing ancient civilizations and very important economic synergies developed especially around the port of Piraeus where China's COSCO Shipping has invested in the past decade, posting impressive results.

"We have the ambition to become the gateway of Chinese products to Europe ... We envisage our country as a hub of logistics and transports and the investment of COSCO in Piraeus is very much helping towards this direction," Katrougalos stated.

The investment in Greece's largest port is a huge success, because it is a win-win situation, the top Greek diplomat noted. The two sides have a common goal to see Piraeus becoming top port of the Mediterranean regarding transshipment of goods.

"We have made huge progress in gaining a very big part of the Mediterranean commerce. We have already agreed to additional investments of COSCO in extending the infrastructure of the port of Piraeus and it is clear that these new investments are going to give fruits to this common endeavor of ours to increase the commerce in the port of Piraeus. I think that this cooperation has bright future in front of it," he said.

COSCO's investment at Piraeus has also helped local society which has been hit hard by the decade-long economic crisis, he explained.

"I would like to stress besides the economic success the social success of this investment. COSCO with the encouragement of our government has completed collective agreements with the workers in the port of Piraeus so as to ensure not just profits for the economies of the two countries, but also very good working conditions for those working in the port of Piraeus," Katrougalos said.

"For us this is highly important exactly, because now we are exiting a very huge crisis that had an important toll to our citizens and we do not want just the numbers and the economic indicators to prosper, we want also our citizens to feel that now we are in a better position than before," he stressed.

Regarding plans for the future, Greece wants to associate the Belt and Road Initiative with the connectivity projects of the European Union, so as the port of Piraeus to be connected to central Europe and to the Balkans via railways, via auto routes, Katrougalos said.

"This is exactly how we envisage the role of our country. Our political home is the European Union. But we have the ambition to become the bridge between the European Union and China, because both sides, not just Greece, but the European Union as well and China believe in multilateralism, in having peaceful relations with respect of the international law. So we can build on that and I think that Greece can become a very good interlocutor between China and Europe," Katrougalos underlined.

For Greece, BRI is an example how the two countries should envisage the future relations of all countries regarding their economic prosperity, he said.

The BRI, proposed by China in 2013, refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and seeks to revive ancient land and sea trade routes to connect China and participating states via win-win trade exchanges, joint investments and infrastructure projects.

Greece believes in multilateralism and that international commerce is the best way of finding win-win combination of interests and ensuring mutual profit.

"We consider that the Initiative is a clear example on how different countries can work together in order to promote international commerce and achieve mutually beneficial for all sides gains," the minister stated. Enditem

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