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January 11, 2012

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Greek Consul General underlines economic and cultural ties with China

GREEK Consul General in Shanghai, Maria Saranti, took up her post in January 2009.

She is the second consul general since the Greek Consulate in Shanghai was established in 2005. She will soon complete her term and return to Europe.

Saranti says she was in Shanghai during a unique period, the World Expo 2010.

In the first year of her busy stay, a lot of her time was devoted to the preparations and activities regarding the Greece Pavilion.

The World Expo was much more than a trade event.

"The theme of the Expo 'Better City, Better Life' was very timely chosen. Greece presented the idea of a human city through its own pavilion," says the consul general.

Greek cities had also experienced many dilemmas in their long history of urban development and had much to say.

Despite the fiscal constraints in Greece, due to which the budget for the maintenance and marketing of the Greece Pavilion was cut by 40 percent, the final result of the pavilion won a prize award.

The Greece Pavilion presented a stark example of how economic activity goes on in many Greek cities and co-exists next to the old sites.

Ancient monuments may give modern city residents a space to connect with their past and enjoy "spiritual moments."

While many economists around the world are discussing the debt crisis that is affecting Greece, Saranti remains confident the Greek government will do its outmost to overcome the problem. "Greece is committed to taking all steps needed to address the crisis."

Saranti says more European integration is needed.

"Facing the financial crisis, we need to think more about Europe, we need more, not less Europe; we need more, not less coordination in our global village. It is important to see the wider picture when facing those globally connected challenges."

Saranti says that the economic crisis has not affected trade or tourism between Greece and China. On the contrary, there is more than 57 percent increase in volume of Greek exports to China and more than 120 percent increase in the number of Chinese tourists traveling to Greece.

Greek companies present in Shanghai are active in maritime transportation, green energy and also include Follie Folli (luxury fashion label), Coco Mat (furniture), Corres (cosmetics brand) and others. More and more Greek companies are now opening offices in Shanghai.

In recent years a Chinese substantial investment in the port of Piraeus is unfolding as planned. Shanghai is a sister city with Piraeus since 1985.

After the World Expo 2010 Shanghai ended, Saranti says her work focus shifted to connect more Greek companies with the Chinese market and develop opportunities for cultural exchanges.

Saranti notes that the best part of working as a diplomat is exploring opportunities and looking for avenues to connect the two countries.

"You are exposed to so many interesting experiences - it's unlike any other job," she says. "You learn and adapt, widen your horizons so that you can function with a broader perspective. Different postings offer a different window to the world."

Before coming to Shanghai, Saranti was posted in New York, Brussels and to the United Nations.

Saranti says that after her stay in Shanghai she has deeper understanding of China and its bilateral relations with Greece.

"The city is unique. Shanghai is a metropolis, is becoming a mega city, important not only to China. The city, famous for its port, is making constant progress. You can see changes every day.

"When I walk on the Bund or some certain neighborhoods in the town I am often surprised by the remodeling, the remaking of the city."

During her leisure time she likes to take the cruise along the Huangpu River, enjoying the sights on both sides of the waterway.

The consul general also sees some similarities between Greece and China. She says both countries have long history, rich cultures and cherish family ties.

"These characteristics helped me feel at ease."

Saranti has also visited Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Anhui provinces. She regrets though that she did not have the time to explore more places in inland China.

This Greek diplomat really knows how to enjoy life and this means trying as much local cuisine as possible. Her favorite is dumplings and mostly xiaolongbao, Shanghai-style little steamed buns.

"The food here is delicious and you can not find in Europe."

She hopes to expand her understanding about China in the future, from a different place and perspective and she is confident that the very good cooperation between Greece and China will continue to develop and will lead to brighter bilateral relations between the two countries.


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