The Greek Ambassador to China Vassilios Costis gave an interview to People’s Daily Online on July 21st 2014. In the interview, the ambassador covered various topics including high-level exchanges, Chinese investment in Greece, potential areas for cooperation, cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchanges, tourism, and maritime cooperation.
People’s Daily Online: When President Xi met President Papoulias July 13 in Rhodes, President Xi said that the Chinese government encourages Chinese enterprises to invest and do business in Greece, and President Papoulias said that Greece welcomes investment from Chinese companies. Mr Ambassador, could you please give us an overview of the current status of investments by Chinese enterprises in Greece? What opportunities can investment bring to China-Greece cooperation? How would you comment on the most recent meeting between the two leaders?
Greek Ambassador: Thank you very much. I welcome you here in this embassy. What I agreed to say from the outset is that the meeting of President Papoulias and President Xi Jinping was very successful. It was a very successful continuation of the previous meeting between the Prime ministers Li Keqiang and Antonis Samaras. It is a very promising beginning in the relationship between the two countries. Secondly, I’d like to say that on the investment side, we already have significant Chinese investments in Greece, such as COSCO Pacific in the Port of Piraeus. We have Huawei and ZTE established in the same region, in the port of Piraeus. And I can say from what I see today that the future is very promising, actually very bright.
People’s Daily Online: At the invitation of the Greek Prime Minister, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid an official visit to Greece on June 19, which has been interpreted as a “handshake” between two iconic civilizations of the East and the West. In your opinion Mr. Ambassador, what role will this meeting between the two leaders play in the future development of China-Greece relations? What is the significance of this meeting, and what are the highlights?
Greek Ambassador: First of all, I would like to say that the expression “handshake” is very opportune. Actually it was a very significant meeting between two people who met last year in Beijing when Samaras visited China. It was a very warm and very good meeting. I was there and I can testify to this. The main highlight of the meeting was the COSCO installation in the port of Piraeus, which offered the opportunity to show the progress that has been made in this context. Secondly, there was the visit of Premier Li Keqiang to two of the most prominent museums and archaeological sites in Greece, the Archaeological Museum in Athens, and the museum of Heraklion. I would say it was really, really a “handshake” between two very ancient civilizations.
People’s Daily Online: China and Greece represent two ancient civilizations in the East and the West. The Chinese and Greek people have both made great contributions to the development of human civilization, and a deep and strong friendship has formed between the two peoples. What do you think of the prospects of cooperation between the two countries? Where is there greater potential for cooperation, and how will the two countries work together in these areas?
Greek Ambassador: Apart from the sector of investment and trade which is very important, I see a very significant cooperation in the field of culture and tourism. These are two sectors in which we can do a lot. And if I have the opportunity in the course of this interview I will explain to you how we can do it, especially after the agreement on the establishment of cultural centers in the capitals of the two countries. I would like to say more on this.
People’s Daily Online: Greece is a representative of the ocean civilization, and China, over the course of history, has also achieved great maritime sucesses. The port of Piraeus is a good example of cooperation between China and Greece. In your opinion, how should China and Greece expand their maritime cooperation? What do you think of China’s standpoint on maritime affairs outlined by the Chinese Premier as he concluded his visit in Greece?
Greek Ambassador: Maritime cooperation was and is among the main topics in the Greek-Chinese relationship. As you pointed out, Li Keqiang touched upon this issue. And we had a seminar during his visit, a seminar on maritime affairs, a seminar on marine cooperation. Greece is a maritime country, traditionally through the ages. And now we are very powerful in the sector. The fact that the two leaders agreed that cooperation in this sector is very important has been underlined by the establishment of a cooperation agreement between China and Greece to take effect next year. In 2015 we will have a special event in both countries underlining maritime cooperation between the two nations, a very important issue.
People’s Daily Online: Greece has been seriously affected by the European debt crisis over the last couple of years. Under current circumstances, how should the two countries cooperate in areas such as economy and trade and infrastructure construction in order to achieve win-win outcomes?
Greek Ambassador: As you pointed out, Greece is emerging from a very severe economic crisis, which was not only the case for Greece - the whole Eurozone suffered. But now we see in 2014 the first signs of economic recovery. I would like to underline that China was very helpful to Greece during this period of time and we are looking forward to enhancing our cooperation with China by having more contacts - I mean on the highest level - and increasing bilateral trade and investment, and as I said taking into account all the chances, all the opportunities we have bilaterally to enhance this relationship. We should build on the close cooperation between the European Union and China. Greece is a member of the European Union. We had the presidency until the 30th of June. Greece is actively supporting President Xi Jinping’s new Silk Road and in particular the 21st century maritime Silk Road - if you follow its course it passes through Greece until the port of Piraeus, so we have a lot of things to do and we will try to do them.
People’s Daily Online: Greece presided over the European Union from January to June this year. How, in your opinion, did Greece promote EU-China relations in that position?
Greek Ambassador: Our main task vis-a-vis China during our presidency of the European Union was to promote investment between the European Union and China, and significant progress has been made. We kept our Chinese friends informed on the progress that was made during this period. Secondly we tried to iron out any remaining differences concerning trade policy between the European Union and China.
People’s Daily Online: As well as its splendid cultural legacy, Greece is also home to many beautiful islands, such as Santorini, a bright pearl in the Aegean Sea, which is also one of the most popular destinations among Chinese tourists. Mr. Ambassador, what efforts have been made by the two countries in terms of promoting cooperation in tourism, and what more should be done in the future?
Greek Ambassador: There has been a lot of progress in our efforts to promote the image of the country and attract Chinese tourists. First of all we have established visa centers in the main cities of China where we have consuls general. Secondly we have tried to expedite the visa granting process and made a lot of progress. I would like to say to you that last year we had a 50 percent increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Greece and we expect another 50 percent this year, this despite the fact that there are no direct flights between Greece and China, which is something we have to see in the years to come.
People’s Daily Online: In the eyes of many Chinese people, Greece, with buildings with white walls and blue rooftops, is an ideal place for vacation. But what many of them don’t know is that the Greek wine industry has also developed in leaps and bounds over the last few years. What place does the wine industry take in the Greek economy? Since China is a huge market for wine consumption, what do you think the Greek wine industry should do to tap the huge market?
Greek Ambassador: The Greek wine making industry has made a very substantial progress during the last five years. And our exports in this sector have increased dramatically. Globally, China is a very interesting market for us and we try to promote Greek wine in China. The competition is very hard. We try to do our best but our main advantage is the fact that the texture and the taste of Greek wine is compatible with China’s food and we think this combination will assist us in this effort.
People’s Daily Online: What makes the Greek wine industry unique, compared with China and other countries?
Greek Ambassador: I would like to say that there are fine wines coming from other countries too of course. I think what makes Greek wine unique is that we have been producing wine for the last five thousand years, so I think we have the know-how. I think this is our most important advantage.
People’s Daily Online: Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics. In your opinion, what Olympic spirit has been passed on from the ancient times to contemporary generations in Greece? The sun-ray ceremony of the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games was held in the Panathenaic Stadium on April 30, which means that the Olympic flame will be burning in China for the second time. What do you think of this Olympic bond between China and Greece?
Greek Ambassador: The Olympic Games is a very important cultural event of our times. I think what has been the gain from this exercise is the spirit of participation, the pleasure of participation in games, the fair play and friendship vis-à-vis other athletes. I think that this is something that has been passed to various nations around the world. This is the meaning of the Olympic Games. Concerning China, I think the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was a milestone in organizing the Olympic Games and familiarizing the Chinese people with the spirit of the Olympic Games. And the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games will be another example of this. We are very happy to see these games taking place again in China.
People’s Daily Online: What’s your expectation for the upcoming Nanjing Youth Olympic Games?
Greek Ambassador: My expectation is that it will be as successful as the 2008 games.
People’s Daily Online: Greece is the birthplace of Western civilization, and has made a great contribution to the development of human civilization. In your opinion, what qualities of the ancient Greek civilization have been inherited by the modern Western civilization? China and Greece represent two ancient civilizations in the East and the West. In your opinion, what more should the two countries do to promote cultural cooperation and people-to-people contact?
Greek Ambassador: I think that we have to enhance by all means cultural cooperation, especially people-to-people exchanges. This is something we should do. What do I mean by this? I mean organizing cultural events in the capital of main cities of both countries. We have a very good national theater, with plays from ancient Greece and by modern Greek writers. I think that we, the Greek people, are eager to see cultural events from China, for instance Chinese opera. And this is something the two governments have to see, and take advantage of all the opportunities we have to increase the number of cultural events. This is the main thing we can do. And I think this is maybe more important than investment, if you allow me, because people-to people exchanges bring people together and if you have people-to-people policy as a very successful tool in the relationship of the two governments, then you can see very very promising results in other sectors of the overall relationship between the two countries.
People’s Daily Online: The Greek myths and legends enjoy widespread popularity in China; many Chinese people have read stories about the Trojan War; the Greek Embassy donated books of these stories to Sichuan when it suffered from the earthquake in 2009 to help the people there regain strength and confidence. Mr. Ambassador, what do you think of the cultural exchanges between the two countries? Greece is home to extraordinary achievements in music, architecture and many other areas. In your opinion, what experience in these artistic areas is Greece ready to share with China?
Greek Ambassador: On the first part of your question, yes I agree there are many areas of cooperation. As I explained to you, in general people-to-people exchanges, in theatre, music, architecture, in many many things.
People’s Daily Online: As cultural exchanges between China and Greece develop in breadth and depth, will we see more Greek artists coming to China to show their work? How do the Greek people like the Chinese language, history and culture?
Greek Ambassador: Yes, of course, we would see more Greek artists coming here and I hope that after the establishment of cultural centers in the capitals of both countries - it was an agreement which was signed during the visit of Premier Li Keqiang in Greece - that the function of these cultural centers will offer a route for more visits of artists from both countries. Yes, Greek people love Chinese history, Chinese philosophy, and the Chinese language. We have a Confucius institute operating in Athens very successfully and we hope to see another one in the second largest city of Greece, within the next month or within the next year. So yes, the interest is there, for sure.
People’s Daily Online: Football is a popular sport in Greece, and Team Greece has just participated in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. How would you comment on Greece’s performance in the tournament?
Greek Ambassador: We were very satisfied by the performance of the Greek team since it was among the best 16 teams of the world at the second phase of these games, and it was a great success for us. Thank you.
People’s Daily Online: Are you a fan of Chinese culture? What places of interest have impressed you the most? What is your favorite Chinese food?
Greek Ambassador: I am a fan of the Greek culture and of China in general. Which sites impressed me most? I would say the Forbidden City for sure, the Summer Palace, and outside Beijing, Mount Tai in Shandong. It was very impressive for me. I have tried to travel and I’m sure I can see more historical and cultural sites in your country, which is unique and very beautiful. Concerning Chinese food, what I like most I would say is Chinese seafood - the way you cook seafood in China.