Interview: Chinese premier's trip to bolster ties: Greek deputy PM

ATHENS, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's upcoming visit to Greece will inject fresh momentum into the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries, said Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

China will hopefully reaffirm its will to take on an even greater role in the recovery of Greece's economy, Venizelos told Xinhua in a recent written interview. "It is my belief that this visit will produce considerable tangible results for our growing partnership," Venizelos said.

Venizelos said that historically speaking, Greece and China are two ancient cultures that have played key roles in the development of human civilization.

"So our ancient heritages underlie a bond of mutual respect, admiration and friendship between our two peoples," he said.

The current relationship, based on sound political relations and strong cultural exchanges, is characterized by mutual interests in a number of fields such as investment, shipping, infrastructure and trade, he added.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' visit to China last year and other high-level visits in recent years reflect the shared will of both sides to further expand and deepen their strategic partnership, said Venizelos.

The deputy prime minister said the timing of Li's visit is very auspicious, as Greece is emerging from the crisis with a market that is much more business- and investment-friendly.

The minister cited numerous investment opportunities such as the Port of Piraeus, Port of Thessaloniki, the national rail operator Trainose, the Athens International Airport, and the Thriasio Freight Center, all of which Chinese companies have strong interests in.

"Our extensive privatization program offers a great many opportunities for Chinese investments that would bring mutual benefits: improved access to European markets for China, and, for Greece, an influx of foreign investments and the creation of new jobs," he said.

One successful example of China-Greece cooperation is the operation of Port of Piraeus, one of the largest seaports in the Mediterranean Sea basin, which was partly leased to China's shipping giant COSCO in 2009.

"Under COSCO's management, Piraeus has become one of the fastest-growing ports in Europe," Venizelos said.

China and Greece also enjoy extensive cooperation in shipping. More than half of China's oil and raw materials imports are carried by Greek-owned vessels, he said.

During Premier Li's visit, a number of bilateral agreements will be signed, including a Memorandum of Understanding on Maritime Cooperation which concerns the protection of marine environment and issues related to the Law of the Sea, according to him.

Those are global issues in which Greece and China, as global shipping giants, can play a decisive role and the cooperation would benefit the international community as a whole, the Greek official said

"So, the visit will certainly impart additional momentum to our strategic partnership," he said.

As Greece sees itself as an "ambassador" for China in the European Union, the deputy prime minister said there is vast potential for EU-Chinese economic cooperation.

China is by far the number one source of EU imports and is also a fast-growing market for European exports. EU-China trade transactions come in at over one billion euros per day, he noted

"We need to continue to work with China, on the level of the EU, to bring down barriers and improve European access to the Chinese market, thus tapping into the truly vast potential for mutual investments," he said

In regard to bilateral cooperation in terms of international affairs, Venizelos noted that Greece is very grateful for China's consistent stance on the Cyprus issue and keeps consultations with China within the framework of the U.N and various EU-China meetings.

He also expressed his content with the increasing number of Chinese visitors each year to his country, where tourism is among the main pillars of the economy.

The rising number of visits from Chinese tourists not only bolsters the Greek economy, but is also -- together with the increasing number of visits to China by Greek tourists and entrepreneurs -- strengthening the bonds between the two ancient and illustrious cultures, he said.

"I would like to convey to the Chinese people a message of real friendship from the people of Greece," the Greek official concluded.