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June 6, 2022

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Greece, China celebrate 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties

The 5th of June 2022 will mark the 50th, or golden, anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Hellenic Republic and the People’s Republic of China. Obviously, both countries boast a much deeper past. Spanning over millennia, their histories are so long that 50 years initially may sound like an insignificant period.

Yet, as changes occur more rapidly in contemporary times than ever before, 50 years has proven to be a long enough period for enormous changes to have taken place. We have all borne witness to these spectacular global transformations.

But, let’s take a minute to think of Greece and China back in 1972 when the first diplomatic ties were established. At that time, Greece was under a military dictatorship which seized power in 1967, only to be overthrown in 1974. Following the restoration of democratic rule, Greece became the 10th member of the European Union in 1981.

Membership of the EU helped the country modernize its state, ameliorate its infrastructures, strengthen its economy and accelerate social progress. Quite similarly, China was nothing like the country it is today back in 1972. Indeed, in the past 50 years, the world has watched China with admiration as it built a prosperous society, with its people enjoying higher standards of living, as hundreds of millions were lifted from poverty. Over this period, it has undergone a shift from a largely agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse. China’s incredible rise over the past half-century is one of the most striking examples of the impact of opening up an economy to global markets.

Fast forward to the 21st century. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), rooted in the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, is an initiative that has added new meaning to the relationship between China and Greece and has opened up new opportunities for development of bilateral relations.

In 2018, Greece was the first developed country in Europe to sign the Belt and Road Memorandum of Understanding and, later, I personally attended the large BRI teleconference under China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi held in June 2020. I should add that the “Road,” or sea route, involving Greece begins in Chinese ports, extends into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean and reaches Europe through the port of Piraeus.

Due to its strategic importance as a gateway to the rest of Europe, the port of Piraeus is one of the Chinese bridgeheads on the continent. State-owned China COSCO Shipping first secured the right to operate parts of Piraeus in 2008.

Greece, however, is not only Piraeus and I strongly believe that Chinese businesses should take a closer look at the country for potential investment.

Apart from investments, trade also offers vast opportunities to further promote bilateral economic ties. Of course, we must acknowledge the enormous differences in scale between Greece and China and both sides should look for practical ways to reduce the trade deficit.

As my contribution is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties, I would like to end this article with a particular reference to the China-Greece Year of Culture and Tourism that opened on September 16, 2021 and is also spanning into 2022. The opening ceremony was held at the archaeological site of the Ancient Agora, which was the commercial, social and political hub of democratic Athens during antiquity. Two statues were unveiled during the event, statues of men with a global impact over the past millennia: Confucius and Socrates. It is amazing that these two philosophers almost lived concurrently at opposite ends of the universe, missing each other by only nine years (Confucius died in 479 BC, while Socrates was born in 470 BC).

We should take the opportunity of the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic ties to focus even more on our common strengths, putting aside our differences. I think both China and Greece have proved that relations can grow amazingly through the adoption and implementation of mutually beneficial “win-win” cooperation projects. It only makes sense. This is truly the same face of human logic.

(Kostas Fragkogiannis is Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs)


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