There’s no denying that in recent months, we’ve seen a blossoming relationship between Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and China’s ambitious President Xi Jinping. As they poured a glass of Greek wine and bonded over their paralleled ancient civilisations, one would think President Jinping was simply paying an old friend a visit.
However, it’s hard to shake off the sneaking suspicion that Jinping’s recent visit to Athens wasn’t without an ulterior motive – one that has been brewing for quite some time. Earlier this year, China opened the doors and let the Greeks into its exclusive Eastern Club, and as a playground clique, we saw the China-CEE initiative grow from 16+1 to 17+1. Involving a rather heterogeneous group of countries across the Eastern European region, these relations have left a seemingly stale taste in the mouth of EU powers as we start to see the formation of a new political bloc – one which could undoubtedly shake up and divide Europe in the long term.
China has spared no second in finding new ways to deepen Sino-Hellenic relations, as it continues on its odyssey to expanding its strategic Belt and Road Initiative. Only three weeks back, we could the steady flow of compliments, with Greece receiving an honourable mention at the International Import Expo in Shanghai. Only a week later, we hear that Greece’s Tourism Ministry announces the launch of direct flights between Shanghai and Athens. Fast-forward another week, and like a good pack-leader, China stood up for the new kid on the ‘Bloc’ and urged the British to give the Parthenon sculptures back.
It seems all the sweet-talking paid off in what was undoubtedly the most strategic move of all – the signing of 16 bilateral agreements, which outlined new levels of cooperation between the two nations. From extradition and agricultural exports to energy, banking and aviation, it appeared no stone was unturned, the most important of which was China’s €600m investment into buying off a large chunk of Piraeus port.
Gaining a major stronghold on Piraeus, which is undeniably the gateway to European transit and trade, has not only cemented China’s presence in the region but has also launched a systemic rivalry against the EU superpowers. Quickly approaching a staggering €2.5b in Hellenic investments, there’s no doubt that China sees Greece playing a pivotal role in its crusade towards accomplishing its modern-day silk road ‘masterplan’. The question is, at what cost does this relationship come? With the American’s already warning Greek officials of accepting enticing Chinese deals, and the Europeans irrefutably on edge, there’s no doubt that the authorities of the Western World are watching on warily.
For the Greeks, China’s penetration into Europe could be a vital opportunity for economic growth and stability. Greece is not only an entry point for Chinese exports, but China provides a lucrative marketplace for the export of Greek olive oils and wines. However, the Greeks need to tread a fine line here, between not biting the hand that’s fed them, while also not walking away from what could be the golden ticket to economic solidity and strengthened relations in Asia. To come out on top, the Greeks need to play the cards at their disposal with a whole lot of poise and a little dash of cunning (something they no doubt are good at).
With fears that Greece will prove to be just another notch on the Chinese Belt, it’s important to start questioning whether we should turn around and hit the road running, or whether this will be helping hand we need to see Greece’s economy flourish once again.