Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signed an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday to allow a further 600 million euro investment by Chinese state-owned shipping firm COSCO into Greece’s largest port, Pireaus, the next step in China’s ongoing investment in Greece as part of the “Belt and Road” Initiative.
“We want to strengthen Piraeus’ transhipment role and further boost the throughput capacity of China’s fast sea-land link with Europe,” Xi said after meeting Mitsotakis in Athens. The Chinese president also said that China hopes to expand its Greek investments into the energy and banking sectors.
COSCO, which the Chinese government has given $1.3 billion in tax subsidies, according to shipping-research organization Alphaliner, bought a 51-percent majority stake in Piraeus in 2016. The Chinese firm plans to turn Piraeus port into the biggest commercial harbor in Europe, spending 600 million euros to enhance operations, including a mandatory investment of 300 million euros by 2022, which will give it an additional 16-percent stake in the port.
The investment was put on hold earlier this year after Greece’s powerful Central Archaeological Council and Museums Council declared a large swath of the port an archeological site. But after July elections brought pro-foreign investment Mitsotakis to power in July, the new government approved two-thirds of COSCO’s plan.
The U.S. and the E.U. have both expressed concerns over China’s increasing presence in Greece, a NATO member. In October, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told National Review that China’s practices are “coercive.”
“We’re working in every forum to try and push back against that,” Pompeo said. “It always starts with recognizing the challenge and then holding every entity accountable in the same way . . . You may have been a developing nation when this all kicked off. Now you’re the world’s second-largest economy, so let’s all go compete on a fair and level and reciprocal playing field.”