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Greek government seeks to reassure Chinese Premier Li

Greek government seeks to reassure Chinese Premier Li
As Greece’s bailout talks with it European Union counterparts collapse the country’s new government has also been seeking to shore up relations with partners in other parts of the world. Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, last week was on the telephone reassuring Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Greece is a reliable commercial partner.

Li had telephoned the new leftist PM to seek assurance the rights of Chinese companies working in Greece will be protected while giving backing for a key port project, the Chinese Foreign ministry said on 12 February.

According to the Chinese Foreign ministry in the telephone call between the two leaders, Li said he saw “enormous prospects” for relations. The ministry paraphrased Li as saying: “Mr Prime minister, you have repeated your welcome to China to increase investment in Greece and will carry out cooperative agreements already reached by both sides.

“(I) hope your country’s government can provide better legal safeguards for Chinese companies operating in Greece.”

China sees Greece’s strategic location as an entry point to both Europe and Africa for the distribution of its products, and had been developing close ties with the previous conservative-led government.

China’s Cosco Pacific manages Piraeus port’s container terminals II and III under a 35-year concession agreement signed in 2009 and under the previous government's privatisation plans Cosco was shortlisted, along with four other suitors, as a potential buyer of a government's 67% stake in the port.

The Tsipras government has confirmed it will halt the sale of Greece's two biggest ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. This is something the Greek Finance Ministry is not completely happy with. Local media quoted a Finance ministry source, 9 February, as saying: “We are in favour of the privatisation of Piraeus Port Authority. We must encourage its privatisation.” The Wall Street Journal also reported a similar reaction from the Finance Ministry.

Li called Cosco’s Piraeus operation a “successful model of cooperation” that brought jobs and improved working conditions. China “hopes the two sides can abide by their promises”, he added.

The Tsipras-led Syriza party came to power on pledges to throw out EU-imposed economic austerity measures and his government has sent mixed signals about whether it will go ahead with sales of state assets.

Another Chinese backed privatisation project under threat is the $1.2bn development of the old Athens coastal airport plot.

Shipowner, banker and businessman Spiros Latsis' real estatedeveloper, Lamda Development, backed by China's Fosun International, the largest private-owned conglomerate in China, and Abu Dhabi-based property firm Al Maabar, was officially chosen to develop the prime seaside property in March, 2014, a project which could lead to the creation of up to 70,000 jobs in the long term.

This week Productive Reconstruction and Environment minister, Panayiotis Lafazanis told parliament: “Acquisition of Elliniko was scandalous and the development plans are extremely destructive to the environment. We will review this scandalous purchase with the aim of canceling it.”