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Stoppage of port sale will not scupper China-Greece relationship

(Global Times)    09:17, February 02, 2015

Clouds of uncertainty over the future Sino-Greek relationship loom after the new government led by the left-wing Syriza party halted the privatization of Piraeus, the biggest port in Greece. China's COSCO Group was originally shortlisted along with four other suitors, which are chosen as final bidders by the former government as potential buyers, of a 67 percent stake in the port.

China cannot remain entirely unaffected in such a situation. However, it is too soon to anticipate that the bilateral ties between the two countries will suffer.

More investigation is needed to make things clear that if this halt in privatization is directed against China. If the new government stopped all privatization projects, then the COSCO Group is just one of the impacted companies.

But one thing is for sure, that the COSCO group will continue to run the second and the third container terminals of Piraeus under a 35-year concession agreement. What will be influenced is whether Sino-Greek cooperation could be enhanced and whether we can increase our controlling interest over this port in the future. For now, the decision is still in progress and the result is not yet set in stone.

Alexis Tsipras, fresh from election victory and sworn in as prime minister on January 26, is undoubtedly experiencing a hangover after the party. But there is no denying that the new government is eager to make changes, to pull the nation away from drowning in debt and to turn the country in a new direction by doing things greatly different from the previous government. Yet whether this turnaround could benefit its own interests needs to be proved by practice.

For example, the new government has recently requested to write off half of its debts. But it soon received a sober message from other European countries that this is off the table. The reason is obvious; they fear a collapse in market confidence. Once Greece breaks the ice, more indebted states will try to write off their debts after getting a loan, and creditor countries will doubt whether their external debt will be paid back.

Beyond that, share prices of Greek banks have declined dramatically recently, and it will face a desperate need for financing shortly. By then, its own request won't matter, and it will have to listen to others' prerequisites.

In the light of this, it is no surprise that Tsipras is appealing new methods and implementing new policies. But how long it would last and what reaction it would bring to the market is not clear. Only after they are put in place for some time, can the policymakers realize the impact of their decisions. At that point, the perfect timing will come for China to maturely communicate over the future cooperation between the two countries.

Thus, we should not jump into any conclusion just because of one decision. And there is little chance for a major change in bilateral relationship.

For one thing, Greece is close to China in its stance over international issues. For instance, in the issue over the Ukrainian crisis, Greece has strongly opposed further EU sanctions against Russia. For another, Greece has always encountered setbacks from EU countries in its implementation of various plans. In these circumstances, support from non-EU countries is needed more than ever for the new prime minister.

China, on the other hand, has constantly provided great support for Greece over the past years, which has enormously helped the nation's economic development. Even though the leadership in Greece has changed, aid from China is still regarded as significant for the country.

Therefore, the direction of bilateral ties is not going to turn around, but the key lies in how we will cooperate in the years to come.

The new Greek government might have something different in mind over cooperation. This requires both sides to be patient to accommodate one another in order to set relations on a smoother and deeper path.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Li Aixin based on an interview with Chen Zhimin, dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. [email protected] 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yuan Can,Gao Yinan)

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