BRUSSELS, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) — Preparing for a projected post-pandemic boom, Chinese companies are considering exploring opportunities in Greece, as they look upon the Mediterranean country as a leader in the foreseeable recovery from the health crisis.
During the pandemic, the Greek economy has shown strong resilience while the control and prevention of the outbreaks has been managed in an orderly and scientific way, said Zhang Qiyue, Chinese ambassador to Greece.
“That has further improved the environment for economic development and also recovery, and has enhanced confidence of international investors in Greece,” Zhang told an online seminar on Monday.
Organized by China Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (CCCEU) together with Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Hellenic Trade Council, the webinar grouped a number of ministerial officials, top diplomats and business leaders from the two countries.
Kostas Karamanlis, Greece’s minister of infrastructure and transport, said his country will be a leading player in the region regarding the economic prospects after the pandemic.
He said that the EU Recovery Fund will help Greece return to pre-pandemic growth rates, as it offers an opportunity to invest in significant infrastructure projects in key sectors where the country has a geostrategic comparative advantage, such as logistics, railway network, ports, and airports.
Outlining the government’s plans, the minister said that the further upgrade of Piraeus port, as well as ports in northern Greece, has helped enhance Greece’s position as an entry gate into Europe for logistics and trade between Asia and the European continent.
Piraeus port is now the largest container port in the Mediterranean and the fourth largest in Europe, 10 years after China’s COSCO Shipping acquired the majority of the port authority. The project has been seen as a win-win example as a result of the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of “17+1” platform.
“I truly believe that Greece will be the new emerging destination in the post COVID-19 Europe for international investors as well as for Chinese investors,” said Zhang.
The ambassador voiced hope that Chinese businesses will look into new areas such as the green energy, innovation and e-commerce, especially as China is embarking on the path of high quality development and as Greece is restructuring its own economy.
Zhou Lihong, chairwoman of the CCCEU, said in the last decade Greece has been a key harbor for logistics, maritime trade and the shipping industry, noting that digital economy, green and sustainable development are key areas for future cooperation, which will offer more diversified complements to the current projects involving Chinese groups like the Three Gorges and COSCO.
“The Greek market is relatively new for us, but we are very much interested in exploring opportunities here,” said Li Jing, general manager of international investment department of Legend Holdings, a Chinese investment holding company.
Her company, owned by computer giant Legend Group, now holds 90 percent of Bank International Luxemburg, the largest independent bank in Luxemburg, and has bought one of the top 10 salmon producers in the world.
Li said the over 1,000 companies that Legend Holdings has invested in will provide unique opportunities for Greek companies that want to go to China, while her company is also seeking expansion in Europe.
Friendly environment, supportive measures and accessibility for discussion are regarded as the company’s top concerns when choosing a destination for investment, said Li, who believes that Greece, a dream destination for travelers, will be a dream destination for investors as well.
Located by the Aegean Sea, Greece boasts a rich culture, charming scenery and a well-known tourism destination. But for Chinese, the Aegean Sea has an additional meaning, as it pronounces like what means “love” in the Chinese language.
“The Aegean Sea has a natural affinity with Chinese people, and it is the first choice for young Chinese to spend their honeymoon there,” noted Zhou.
She added that the Mediterranean cuisine has become popular in China as well. Once the China-EU Geographical Indications Agreement enters into force, many famous Greek agricultural products that have been included in the list will be further protected in the Chinese market, she said.
The potential boom in the tourism sector seems more tangible as people in China, the world’s most valuable and largest outbound market, are eager to travel, as already shown during the National Day holiday in early October when people were out for traveling domestically despite the pandemic and relevant health measures.
In 2019 alone, Greece recorded over 220,000 visits from China, worth around 300 million yuan (over 45 million U.S. dollars), registering a year-on-year growth of 86 percent, said James Tang, senior vice president of Trip.com Group, a leading Chinese online travel service provider.
With about 300 million users, Trip.com will continue to invest in its operation in Greece, and promote the European country as a high-end, unique and fantastic destination for Chinese tourists, Tang said.
“When it is safe and proper to travel around the world, we look forward to working closely with destinations and local partners to introduce new business models and more,” he said.