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Xiao Junzheng to “N”: New growth opportunities for the “blue of the Aegean” and the “red of China”

“Greece is an important partner of China in the European Union, which acts as a bridge, as a link for the strengthening of Sino-European relations,” China’s Ambassador in Athens, Xiao Junzheng, said in an interview with “Naftemporiki” and Michalis Psilos.
In the first seven months of the year, China became Greece’s third largest trade partner worldwide and its largest trade partner outside the European Union countries, the Chinese Ambassador underlined and added: “There are new development opportunities that will better combine the “blue of the Aegean” and “red of China”, creating more benefits for our people.”

Referring to the strong maritime cooperation between the two countries, he reminded that “Greece is the country with the most ship owners in the world. China, respectively, is the largest shipbuilding power and the most important importer and exporter of goods. The Greek fleet plays an important role in transporting bulk commodities, such as oil and other energy resources, that are imported to China.” At the same time, our country is the main shipbuilding site for Greek shipowners,” the Chinese Ambassador noted.
“Piraeus is also the starting point of China’s high-speed land-sea connection with Europe… The line has been developing rapidly and is now the third trade channel between China and Europe.”

The full interview to Michalis Psilos follows:

Mr. Ambassador, China is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative. More than 152 countries have signed project agreements or expressed their intention to cooperate with China. What does this mean for China?

The ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative started in China, but its opportunities and results belong to everyone. This year marks 10 years since its inception. Over the past decade, the Initiative has focused on promoting the interconnection and common development of all countries, and having brought significant results, it has become an important international public product and platform for international cooperation. Under the Initiative, China has signed over 200 cooperation agreements with 152 countries and 32 international organizations.

The volume of China’s trade with the states participating in the Initiative is constantly increasing. From 2013 to 2022, the average annual growth rate of total imports and exports of goods between China and these countries was 8.6%.
In addition, landmark projects such as the China-Europe railway line, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the Hungary-Serbia railway and the port of Piraeus were implemented. Working together to build the Initiative has created a total of 420,000 jobs in participating countries.

According to estimates, by 2023 the Initiative will take 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million out of mild poverty in participating countries, increasing global income by 0.7%-2.9%. The 3rd Summit of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held in Beijing in October and, so far, representatives from 110 countries have confirmed their participation. The future of the Initiative looks bright. As the high-quality and joint building of the Initiative progresses, it will provide more opportunities for the joint development of its countries, including China and Greece.

Does Greece as a gateway to Europe play an important role for China?

Thanks to its unique and advantageous geographical position at the most south-eastern point of Europe, Greece stands at the crossroads of three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa – at the key point where the Land and Sea Silk Roads intersect.
Therefore, Greece is by nature a “bridge” connecting China to Europe, a partner in jointly building the Initiative and an important gateway for Asian products, including Chinese products, to Europe and particularly to Central and Eastern Europe, playing an important role in deepening Sino-European economic and trade cooperation.
Thanks to the joint construction of the Initiative, the level of practical cooperation of our countries is constantly improving, projects such as the port of Piraeus and the fast land-sea link between China and Europe further consolidate Greece’s position as a gateway that links the land with the sea and Europe with Asia, while the advantages of our countries complement each other in the context of our bilateral cooperation, yielding mutual benefit.
Greece is an important partner of China in the European Union, acting as a bridge, as a link to strengthen Sino-European relations. Sino-Greek cooperation can be a pillar for China’s relations with Europe. This will prove to be beneficial not only for our two countries but also for the overall development of Sino-European relations.

Model of peaceful coexistence and beneficial cooperation How are Sino-Greek relations today? Are there prospects of deepening them?

Today chaos and complexity characterize international affairs, with volatility and uncertainty having significantly increased. However, China and Greece, faithfully and unswervingly following the spirit that has characterized their diplomatic relations since their establishment, understand and support each other on issues of their fundamental interests and serious concerns, and continue to promote development of bilateral relations by instilling confidence, stability and positive energy in a world filled with uncertainty, thus becoming a model of peaceful coexistence, mutually beneficial cooperation and mutual learning between cultures that transcends any national and cultural differences.
I believe that the overall picture of Sino-Greek relations can be best described through the following key propositions: friendship and mutual trust, mutual learning between cultures, mutually beneficial cooperation and communication between peoples.
China and Greece as comprehensive strategic partners contributing to the joint construction of the “One Belt One Road” Initiative and participating in China’s cooperation with the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), have many common interests. Thanks to the interest of our leaders and our joint efforts, the results of our exchanges and cooperation in economy, trade, culture and mutual learning between our cultures are rich, with many mutual benefits.
In the future, our countries must consolidate and deepen the existing cooperation, taking advantage of the prospects that exist in emerging sectors, such as the digital and green economy, to offer new development opportunities that will better combine the “blue Aegean” and “China’s red”, creating more benefits for our people.

Mr. Ambassador, Greece and China have a close maritime cooperation. About half of the ships of Greek shipowners are built in Chinese shipyards. Do you think this cooperation can be further extended?

Greece is the country with the most ship owners in the world. China, respectively, is the largest shipbuilding power and the most important importer and exporter of goods. The Greek fleet plays an important role in transporting bulk commodities, such as oil and other energy resources, that are imported to China. At the same time, our country is the main shipbuilding site for Greek shipowners. Our maritime cooperation has a long history, with our advantages complementing each other, producing rich mutual benefits and making significant contributions to the stability of global logistics and production chains. In recent years, thanks to the global development of Chinese shipbuilding technology, the comparative advantages of high quality and of China’s low-cost shipbuilding industry are becoming increasingly apparent. In the first half of this year, the Chinese shipbuilding industry topped the world in three important indicators, with its share of total new ship orders worldwide exceeding 70% and more and more Greek shipowners choosing China for shipbuilding. We believe that just as the course of economic globalization is irreversible, so too will Sino-Greek maritime cooperation become closer. On September 6, the China-Greece Maritime Finance Conference was successfully held in Greece. The future of bilateral exchanges and cooperation in the field of shipping finance is bright. Our shipping-based countries can also work together and find ways to expand global industrial chains to cover many aspects of the second and third sectors of the economy, allowing more mutually beneficial results for our peoples.

The central role of Piraeus

For 13 years, the port of Piraeus has been under the management of COSCO Shipping. What are the results of this project?

Thanks to the joint efforts of our countries, the port of Piraeus was reborn after the economic recession and debt crisis, having become a port full of hope and vitality and a model project of China and Greece in the joint construction of the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative.
Since taking over the management of the port, the COSCO Shipping Group has always adhered to the principle of mutual benefit in promoting the development of Piraeus, with the total amount of investment for the construction and upgrading of the terminal exceeding one billion euros so far. Piraeus has become a leading port in the Mediterranean, as the total volume of containers handled per year has soared from 880,000 in 2010 to over 5 million TEUs over the last years. The revenues of the port are constantly increasing. For the 2022 fiscal year, COSCO Shipping’s revenue reached 194.6 million euros, up 26.2% compared to 2021. Cruise and passenger handling are also showing strong growth.
The port’s activities have expanded into six major sectors, namely container, ferry, cruise, ro-ro, oil and gas terminals and the shipyard, occupying an increasingly important position in the Mediterranean, European and global shipping sector.
The project at the port of Piraeus has also given an effective boost to the economic and social development of both the surrounding area and the entire country. More than 3,000 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs were created, with direct social contributions to the local community exceeding 1.4 billion euros.
Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) has also been awarded for Piraeus’ great contribution to tourism, as “Diamonds of the Greek Economy 2022” and as one of the most sustainable companies in the country. Piraeus is also the starting point of China’s high-speed land-sea connection with Europe, which reaches directly to the heart of Central and Eastern Europe.
The line has developed rapidly and is now the third China-Europe trade channel. It is an intermodal transport line that facilitates the transport of goods between the two sides, while playing an active role in building an international transport and logistics hub in Greece.
The investment in the port of Piraeus has significantly improved Greece’s position as a gateway connecting land to sea and Europe to Asia. In the future, based on the special advantages of Piraeus, our countries will be able to explore further possibilities offered in manufacturing, the green economy, etc. sectors, constantly deepening their practical cooperation.

What are the prospects for Greek exports to China? Which Greek products have conquered the Chinese market?

Bilateral trade exchanges have been further enriched over the last years following the developing strategic partnership between China and Greece. According to Greek statistics, in the first seven months of the year, China became Greece’s third largest trading partner worldwide and its largest trading partner outside the European Union countries.
According to China’s statistics, despite the recession and global economic and trade conditions, from January to August 2023, the total trade volume between China and Greece exceeded 9.6 billion dollars, on an annual basis. Greece also remains China’s fourth largest trading partner among Central and Eastern European countries.

Greek olive oil, wine, dairy products, saffron, Chios mastic, and other distinctive and high-quality products are becoming more and more popular and are preferred by Chinese consumers.

Based on international developments, the economic and political rivalry between the West and China is constantly intensifying. Do you think there might be a new Cold War?

The so-called ‘New Cold War’ is a false concept, completely contrary to the fundamental interests of the peoples, which totally deviates from the targets of global development and progress, has a serious negative impact on multilateralism and global governance, and leads only to destruction. The characterization of Sino-European relations in terms of competition or a new “Cold War” can only harm the interests of both sides. This year marks the 20th anniversary of China and the European Union’s comprehensive strategic partnership, a relationship that unites the past with the future. China and Europe must oppose the new “Cold War” together, strengthen their communication and trust, and deepen their cooperation.