China's diplomats and Communist Party-controlled state and "private" enterprises are showing renewed interest in Greece following a period of forced suspension of bilateral contacts and political and economic pressure due to Covid-19.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, during the first months of his term, had adopted a tactic of unrestrained and unconditional cooperation with Beijing. He made excessive commitments to President Xi Jinping, violating the framework of (legitimate and equal) contacts established in January 2006 by then Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, with the signing of the strategic relationship agreement between the two countries.
On the one hand, Mitsotakis had the mitigating factor of the logical argument, first invoked in 2015 by the then Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, that it is not possible for large countries (France, Germany, etc.) to trade widely with Beijing and only Greece and a few other EU members voluntarily abstain.
On the other hand, the prime minister did not realise (or did not want to realise) that conditions have changed a lot since 2006 and 2015, as China advances strategic (and military) pursuits through attractive investment plans and a flurry of promises.
The prime minister changed his mind, excluding Chinese companies from 5G telecommunications infrastructure at the end of 2020, after the facts were explained to him, succinctly, by then-US President Donald Trump and at length by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Among other things, the prime minister has long downplayed warnings that it would not be possible for US armed forces stationed in Greece to use telecommunications networks associated with Chinese companies. In August 2020, it became clear to Mitsotakis that he would only speak to President Trump with a special telephone encryption device that was temporarily installed in the Maximos Palace by US embassy technicians.
The irony was that Maximos' leaks presented the treatment of Mitsotakis as privileged, when in reality there was fear of porous Greek networks and the action of anti-Western agencies. At the same time, it is a historical irony that at the same time the Predator was flourishing in Athens, as confirmed (in his interview with Nikos Hatzinikolaou) by the Prime Minister himself, adding (as an irresponsible ruler according to the Constitution or as a foreign tourist) that he does not know who was using the system and committing felonies.
The Chinese requirements
Current President Joe Biden raised the issue of China this May during a meeting with the Prime Minister at the White House. Kyriakos Mitsotakis moved to the other extreme (compared to his 2019-20 policy), expressing outrage at Beijing's influence in the Balkans and its anti-democratic moves, aligned with Moscow, internationally.
Also, Joe Biden's adviser on a trip to Athens, raised the issue of Greek support to China in international organisations.
In the coming months, the prime minister will have to respond to Beijing's new set of demands for COSCO's investments in Piraeus, the ratification of the EU-China Investment Protection Agreement by Parliament, cooperation in international organisations, State Grid's demands on ADMIE (and through ADMIE) and the joint actions in the "Global Development", "One Belt One Road" and China-Central and Eastern European countries initiatives (the so-called "17+1", which degenerated into "14+1" after reneging on Chinese investment promises).
Indicative of the interference in Greek political life, is the information that the Chinese side has recorded and criticised the activities of some Greek officials, such as the Minister of the Interior Makis Voridis and some MPs.
Alexandros Tarkas is editor of the monthly magazine "Defense and Diplomacy" and columnist for the newspaper "Demokratia". He also regularly contributes to SLPress.