China, Greece and Europe: Partners for Prosperity
Remarks by Ambassador Du Qiwen
Athens, January 20, 2012
Dear Professor Yannis Valinakis,
Professor Napoleon Maravegias,
Dr. Marina Skordeli,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to join you and speak about China's relations with Greece and Europe at large. I will try to be brief in my remarks and leave more time for interactive exchanges. For, after all I have been on my post for barely five months. We were taught when we were young that the worst thing to do when you first arrived at a place is to start making generalized statements, or blah blah. It is an admonishment which, through the years, I have found very helpful.
First of all, I wish to tell you that I am very happy to be back in this beautiful country, where I started my diplomatic career almost 37 years ago, to reconnect myself with one of the most venerated civilizations, and work, once again, among friends.
What are my impressions of this "time travel" experience? Upon my return to Greece after 30 years, I was happy to find that the country has taken on a much more modern look. I was very much impressed with the new terminal at Eleftheros Venizelos Airport the minute we walked out of the plane, and with the motorway that leads to town and other infrastructure projects. In the old days, we always drove through Kifisia when we went swimming at Marathon bay. At that time, it was a small town, very green and a little sleepy. And now, it has become a well developed urban area, bustling with activity. From what we see from all angles, it is obvious that there has been remarkable improvement in people's living standard. In those days, you were working to join the EEC, and I can still recall the day when you singed the accession treaty in Zappion Palace and people went out to celebrate. And now, you have firmly established yourselves as part of old Europe. Of course these days we sometimes hear people talk about the risks of Greece dropping out of the Eurozone. But, personally, I don't believe it is something that will happen. To sum up, my overall impression is that the last 30 years has been a period of remarkable progress in Greece.
At a time of crisis, I might sound a bit out of fashion. Yet, thinking long term, rather than following projections of credit rating agencies, helps us grasp the trend and see the big picture better in this fast evolving world.
What is the dominant trend in our time? In my opinion, globalization, which is accelerated by rapid development in science and technology, is fundamentally changing the world's landscape. The process is featured with relocation of production, rise of developing economies, and industrialized countries further moving up the global economic chain.
These developments bring challenges as well as present opportunities to all countries. It is something that is going to stay and change the way we live, work and communicate with each other.
When talking about globalization, we shall never overlook the fact that Europe has been among the first to foster this trend, benefiting the most from it, and will continue to take the lead in many aspects. Greece, being one of the sources of inspiration for the shaping of modern Europe, has always been known for its openness, creativeness, flexibility and the adventurist spirits of its entrepreneurs. On a historical level, it is not unfavorably positioned to compete and prosper under the new circumstances.
Talking about changes in the global scene, where does China stand in her relations with Europe and Greece?
Both in favor of multilateralism, diversity and dialogue across civilizations, China has been consistently supportive of a stronger Europe, and is working hard for better ties with it. President Hu Jintao told visiting President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy last May: "An economically stable and prosperous Europe is in the interest of China and the world."
The two sides have no strategic conflicts of whatever sort. Our economic relations are largely complementary and mutually beneficial. The European Union has become China's top trading partner and premier source of technologies and investment. Bilateral trade in the first 11 months of 2011 came to 517 billion US dollars, with EU exports to China going up by 26.8%.
Our people-to-people links are getting closer. Currently, about 400 million Chinese are learning English, 240,000 Chinese students are studying in the EU, and 30,000 European students are studying in China. Over 1.5 million Chinese tourists traveled to Europe and 3 million European tourists visited China in 2010.
In particular, Greece is considered one of China's best friends in Europe.
China and Greece have always been supporting each other on a broad range of issues. From Greece, China has received invaluable support and assistance, among others, in hosting Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, and evacuating our compatriots from Libya in 2011. Premier Wen Jiabao addressed an internal meeting with the staff of the Chinese Embassy, on the sidelines of his official visit to Athens in October, 2010. He made a detailed recount of the help we received from Greece on various occasions. To name a few, Greek shipowners broke through the boycott and blockade imposed on the newly founded People's Republic by western powers to transport China's export and import commodities in the 1950s and 60s. Greek government and people supported our rescue and relief efforts after Wenchuan earthquakes in 2008, and embraced Beijing's hosting of the 29th Olympic Games. He quoted an old saying in China, "The good things we did to others are better to be forgotten, but help that has been given to us should be always remembered."
The feeling of friendship with Greece is deep-rooted in our society. The Greek ancient civilization stands tall in the world, as well as in the heart of every educated Chinese because they were so taught at school. Deep inside every Chinese student, there is a potential philhellenist.
Between China and Greece, we are never short of stories of solidarity. Last June, COSCO Piraeus Container Terminal, a "local" company, quietly sponsored the International Special Olympics in Athens, by providing sportswear for all participating contestants and uniforms for the organizing staff, with the amount of about 1 million Euros. And they made a special point for it not to come out in the media.
About six weeks ago, Ordinary Chinese business people, restaurant runners and their families traveled to the Chinese Embassy in Athens from as far as Thessaloniki, to hold a charity bazaar, and donated all the income to SOS Eliza Children's home. The money raised is some 16800 Euros. Not a big amount, but the way people worked so enthusiastically to make life a little bit easier for the children is truly touching.
As a friend, China feels the pain Greece is suffering and stands by the Greek people, by voicing political support, help through IMF, expanding tourism, trade and investment ties.
n Politically, our leadership has continuously expressed our support for Greece and European Union in their efforts to resolve the debt crisis, on all bilateral and multilateral occasions.
n Financially, China has increased its contribution to the IMF in order for it to have enough resources. China has also purchased Greek bonds at the request of Greek government. Chinese Development Bank has established a special fund, with an initial amount of 5 billion dollars, to provide financing services to Greek shipping communities, among other things.
n In tourism, Air China has reopened direct flights between Beijing and Athens since last May. The award to the winning participants in a popular Chinese TV program, "Find Your Date", is a holiday for the boy and girl in Santorini. I was told by Arisditi Alafouzos that any day you find more than one third of the tourists in Santorini to be young people from China, and many of them are honeymooners.
n In Investment, COSCO project with Piraeus Container Terminal has helped to raise the number of TEUs handled to 1.18 million in 2011 up from 680,000 in 2010, targeting to increase the throughout to 3.7 million TEUs a year by 2015. COSCO is happy to have contributed to restoring the reputation of Piraeus as a reliable transshipment hub in the Mediterranean.
n In trade, my government has pledged to double bilateral trade to 8 billion dollars, within five years from 2010. China has since worked hard to expand import of Greek olive oil, wine, marble and other products. I'm happy to tell you that in the first 10 months of 2011, Greek export to China has increased 83.5%. That includes 429,000 liters of Greek wine sold to the Chinese market, with the value going up by 290.3% year on year. And 1305 tons of olive oil shipped to China, rising 12% in volume and 36.7% in value compared with previous year. There is a saying in the world that today whatever China buys, the price goes up, and whatever China sells, the price goes down. As you understand, we don't like it this way. But in the case of Greek wine, olive oil and marble products, we hope it will prove true, because we will be happy to see Greek farmers and producers get better economic returns.
I wish to reiterate that, for China, Greece and Europe, we are today ever more important partners for prosperity.
For self-evident reasons, a politically strong, financially stable and economically prosperous Europe, is in the interests of China and the world. There is not any doubt that Europe, with its solid economic fundamentals, technological edge, innovation capability, business environment, and well-educated work force, will remain a leader and important player in world economy and politics.
During the two years of worsening debt crisis, China-EU relationship has not faltered, but rose to the challenges. In 2011, China and European countries have exchanged visits more frequently and at higher levels. Joint effort to address the crisis has become a strong bond between Chinese and European leaders. President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other Chinese leaders have had in-depth discussions with leaders of the EU and European countries on many bilateral and multilateral occasions about the situations and corresponding policies.
To assist the European endeavor, China has increased its contribution to IMF resources, purchased bonds issued by Eurozone countries, expanded imports from and investment in Europe.
Looking ahead, China will continue to play a constructive role in stabilizing global financial markets and restoring world economic growth, and to work with Europe and the international community to fight the crisis. China, Greece and Europe, as partners for prosperity, together we could do better.
In October 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao closed his address at the Hellenic Parliament, by saying the following:
"A long as we bear in mind the great achievements of our ancestors and carry on their spirit, rely on and give full play to the wisdom and talents of our people, forge ahead together with confidence and determination, we will be able to bring about a better future."
I share his belief.