Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang concluded a three day visit to Athens and Crete, after signing 19 bilateral deals worth an estimated 6.5 billion euros.
Athens.- Li wrapped up a three-day visit to Greece on Saturday with a visit to Crete following the signing of 19 bilateral deals worth an estimated 6.5 billion euros. The Chinese are interested in a new international airport near the Cretan port of Iraklio along with a series of other Greek state assets up for privatization as part of a troika-mandated reform drive.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang departed from Nikos Kazantzakis airport in Iraklio. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni, Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas, deputy ministers, deputies and local authority officials bid him and the members of his mission farewell at the airport.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited the archaeological site of Knossos, on Saturday morning, accompanied by his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras, who arrived at the location shortly before 10 a.m. to welcome him. The two prime ministers toured the Minoan palace, accompanied by Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas, Culture secretary general Lina Mendoni, Crete regional governor Stavros Arnaoutakis and local deputies.
The two prime ministers later on visited the Iraklio Archaeological Museum, where Samaras inaugurated the premises of the renovated museum that was delivered for use recently. Earlier, the Chinese prime minister was visited by Arnaoutakis at the hotel in Hersonissos and discussed issues concerning Crete and possible cooperation with China.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, speaking during his visit to the Archaeological Museum in Iraklio, accompanied by his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras, stressed that Greek-Chinese cooperation has great prospects and that “we shall continue to strengthen the policy of trust and cooperation policies between us”.
Keqiang expressed his admiration for Crete, “the roots of Europe” and for Minoan culture. He added that it was a great honour for him to be one of the first visitors to the premises and said he was impressed by the exhibits, “the valuable cultural goods that describe the history of Minoan culture”.
He spoke of a historic base and of similarities between the cultures of Greece and China and focused on culture’s contribution to mankind’s multilateral development.
The Chinese prime minister once again thanked Greece and Crete for the repatriation of 13,000 of his fellow countrymen from Libya, in February 2011, saying “we shall never forget this”.
Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Samaras stressed the multiple messages for Greek-Chinese cooperation and the linking of the past with an encouraging future.
The prime minister welcomed Keqiang as the first visitor of the renovated Museum, but mainly as “a true friend who is coming from far away”, adding that “we are sharing with our cultures the common knowledge that brings us closer”.
Samaras then made special references to Minoan culture, stressing that it constitutes splendid capital in the duration of Greek culture. He spoke of strong roots and of the history and mythology of Crete, praising the island’s leading role from ancient times with the tradition of the sea and its role as the crossroads of three continents and as a hub, while terming Minoan Crete “the focus of discoveries and of technology”.
Samaras also said that 61 major cultural projects are taking place on the island which will have changed Crete’s cultural map by 2015 and that more than 100 million euros are being spent that provide jobs and “constitute a field of know-how for manpower”.
The Greek prime minister told Keqiang “friends demolish obstacles and build bridges” and gave him symbolically the ticket with the number 1 that came out of the Museum’s ticket office in his name.
Li reached Greece after a three-day trip to Britain. Analysts say Europe is becoming increasingly important to China in economic terms, sharing a relationship largely unburdened by the mistrust and intractable disputes Beijing shares with the U.S. and Japan.
“Li Keqiang wants to send a message to Europe that their old conception of China is no longer valid and to explain what it is exactly that China intends to do,” said Cui Hongjian, director of European studies at the Foreign Ministry think tank, the China Institute of International Relations.
Samaras said he would like to see Greece, through its seaports and airports, become “China’s gate to Europe.”
“I believe we can create a junction for the transportation of people and goods” between China and Europe, he said.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Friday issued a joint statement pledging to boost strategic bilateral ties following a visit by the two men to Piraeus, where Chinese shipping giant Cosco is seeking to expand its presence and which Li said could become “China’s gateway to Europe.”
Following the signing of 19 bilateral trade and business deals, the leaders’ joint statement appeared to focus more on general ties between the two nations with both sides pledging to respect their respective positions on key issues of national interest. In Greece’s case, the Cyprus problem was referred to with both sides hailing the recent resumption of United Nations-mediated negotiations and looking toward a “fair and viable settlement as soon as possible.” The statement also expressed the intention of both sides to promote Chinese efforts to secure an investment agreement between Beijing and European Union.
As regards bilateral business, the two sides pledged to support and help each other in the financing, investment and trade sectors and to redress imbalances in trade relations, with Beijing expressing its commitment to boost imports of Greek products. The statement also noted the interest of Chinese businesses in participating in Greece’s program of privatizations.
Earlier in the day, Samaras and Li visited Piraeus in an appearance of high symbolism amid reports that Cosco is targeting the acquisition of a 67 percent stake in Piraeus Port Authority. In shirt sleeves and without ties, the two leaders both waxed lyrical about the port’s potential. Li described it as “the pearl in the Mediterranean” and said he was keen to work with the Greeks to make it “the most competitive port in the world.”
The Chinese premier also expressed Beijing’s interest in investing in Greece’s railway network in order to accelerate the transport of goods to Europe, noting that the use of Piraeus as a hub had already reduced the time it takes to transport Chinese exports to the EU by between 7 and 11 days. The development of the shipyard zone at Piraeus is another goal, he said.
The two premiers inaugurated the train which will transport containers with Chinese products from the premises of Cosco, through the network of Hellenic Railway (OSE), to the mainland of Europe. The head of the Chinese company briefed them on the development plans of the port as a transit centre for the promotion of products in the European Union and in Eastern Europe.
In his statement, the Greek prime minister said: “Piraeus has become a key gateway from Asia over the last years. The connection with the railway network provides a new perspective for the country, which large companies such as ZTE, Sony, Hewlett are already making use of. The impressive growth in freight volumes demonstrates the advantages of the Greek-Chinese cooperation. The potential for even greater development is enormous.”
“There are opportunities for important investments, which does not only concern the transport of goods but also the development of other sectors such as cruise and the shipbuilding zone. The enhancement of investments leads to an increase in production and employment while upgrading the role of Greece in the region. Meanwhile, China has helped increase demand for shipping services. A large amount of Chinese products are transferred through Greece which is a significant maritime power,” he added.
The Chinese premier thanked Samaras and noted: “Firstly, we visited the Acropolis, which is Greece’s pride and symbol and then we went to the Piraeus’ port, which reflects the prospect and possibility of cooperation between the two countries. We visited the coordinating centre and we were briefed on Cosco’s plans. We inaugurated the first train that will transfer products to Eastern Europe. The project has created 1,000 jobs and is competitive to any foreign transit centre. This proves that the Greek-Chinese cooperation brings tangible results. The most important is that we need to explore future possibilities. The port of Piraeus may become China’s gateway to Europe. China and Europe are the largest partners. Eighty-percent of goods are transported by sea. The port has reduced the cost and duration of transport of goods by 7-11 days. We hope that working together we will make the Piraeus’ port one of the most competitive in the world and participate in the construction and maintenance of the rail network from the port to mainland Europe in order to reduce the transfer time by one to two days. The Greek-Chinese cooperation facilitates prosperity in Europe and the stability of the global economic growth.”
According to sources, marine transport and shipbuilding topped the agenda of talks at a lunch given by President Karolos Papoulias in Li’s honor and attended by Samaras as well as several key cabinet members including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis. In a separate meeting with Li, Papoulias described the Chinese leader as “a great friend of Greece.”
Li and Samaras also visited the Acropolis and Athens’s National Archaeological Museum on Friday with Li describing the former as “wonderful.”