Greece-China: a long history of friendship, working towards a better future
Editor's note: Decision Makers is a global platform for influential leaders to share their insights on events shaping today's world. Georgios Iliopoulos is the Ambassador of Greece to China. This article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Greece and the People's Republic of China. Admittedly, both countries have come a long way since June 1972. Greece has become a member of the European Union and is a pillar of stability in southeastern Europe, whereas China has risen to become the second economic power globally. Regardless of these changes and the transformation our world has been through over these last 50 years, both countries have always appreciated and respected each other. They have enjoyed, especially over the last years, a solid, friendly relationship on the political and institutional level, as it is evident by the numerous agreements and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that govern our relations, especially after the joint communique, of the establishment of comprehensive strategic partnership in 2006. The excellent relations that China and Greece enjoy are a true reflection of mutual understanding and affinity between two ancient civilizations, aiming to promote global peace, development and cooperation.
Building on our high-level bilateral cooperation, Greece is open and welcomes new Chinese productive investments in fields where Greek enterprises enjoy a comparative advantage, such as transportation, energy, tourism, infrastructure, green and digital economy. We also wish to further strengthen our economic and trade ties with China, addressing asymmetries and imbalances that persist over the last few years.
In the maritime sector, our mutually beneficial partnership justifies our confidence in future common projects. The investment of China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) in Piraeus port is evidently a good example of the successful cooperation between Greece and China. With the combined efforts of Greek and Chinese partners, Piraeus has become a strategic hub for East–West shipping ties and a landmark project of our cooperation. The success of this investment is clearly demonstrated by the port's annual turnover in 2021, which reached more than 150 million euros, increased by 16 percent over 2020. Besides Piraeus, we should not forget that over the past 17 years, Greek ship-owners have built more than 1000 vessels in Chinese shipyards, an investment worth over $70 billion, thus considerably contributing to the growth of the local shipbuilding industry and its suppliers. Greece and China play indeed a decisive role in the development of the world maritime trade. Our cooperation and solidarity in the sea goes beyond trade, addressing a wide range of issues, from piracy to humanitarian crises, such as the evacuation of citizens from distress areas.
The energy sector also provides room for cooperation between Greek and Chinese companies and institutions. Our country is rapidly abandoning fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy and is becoming an energy hub for southeastern Europe, while China is accelerating its drive towards carbon neutrality. Several Chinese companies are already involved in projects in Greece, like China's State Grid Corporation, through its stake in the Greek Independent Power Transmission Operator (IPTO), or China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Co. Ltd. and Zhejiang Supcon Solar Technology Co. Ltd. for the engineering, procurement and construction of the Minos CSP power plant near Sitia on Crete. While the "green" revolution in Greece is gaining momentum and the country speeds up its process of energy diversification and carbon neutrality, the overhaul goes beyond traditional energy projects and spills over to the digital sector. In this context, the University of West Macedonia in Greece collaborates with Chinese Huawei in creating the first "green data center" in our country, which will replace the old, bulky and high energy consuming servers and units, saving considerable space and energy.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has hindered our academic exchanges and Greek students have not yet managed to return to their Chinese universities. Still, our countries' institutions continue exploring ways to cooperate. Recently e.g., the Universities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras and Crete have signed a framework agreement with the Southwest University in Chongqing, introducing a master's degree on the comparative approach of Greek and Chinese civilizations. The program will allow graduate students to study both in Greece and China, providing them with the opportunity to gain solid in-depth knowledge of the two civilizations, and will promote scientific research collaborations between our universities, paving the way for broader cooperation in the academic field in the future. Greece supports the development of cooperation programs in education with China and we look forward to welcoming Chinese students to our English-language university education programs. Over 200 foreign language programs for undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate studies, are expected to be offered soon to foreign students choosing to study in Greek universities.
Culture has also provided a strong basis for the development of our relations. Looking back, over the last few years, notable events such as the Cultural Year of Greece in China in 2008, the China-Greece Cultural Exchanges and Cultural Industry Cooperation Year 2017 have provided us with plenty opportunities to host significant and memorable cultural events, bringing closer together our peoples and countries. Even over the last couple of years, and in spite of the obstacles set by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing Greece-China Year of Culture and Tourism, and, of course, the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic ties, are celebrated successfully in collaboration with the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Greece as a major touristic destination is looking forward to welcoming once again, the Chinese tourists who wish to explore the riches of both a historical and modern country.
Taking into consideration our successful partnership over the last 50 years, I am confident that our two countries, China and Greece, two ancient civilizations and current promoters of multilateralism and enhanced international cooperation, will continue to deepen and intensify their relations for the interest of our peoples.
In this context, I would like to wish to our countries and our peoples a happy 50th anniversary of the Greece-P.R. China diplomatic relations, and a prosperous future for our countries' partnership.
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