Earlier this month, Greece blocked a European Union statement at the United Nations that would have criticized China’s human rights record, with Athens saying it was opposed to “unconstructive criticism.” The move prompted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman to publicly thank Greece “for upholding the correct position.” EU diplomats and rights groups, however, were less than pleased. Human Rights Watch and nine other groups issued a statement saying the EU’s credibility was being battered by its inability to adopt a coherent position on China’s human rights record. In an email interview, Rem Korteweg, head of the Europe in the World Unit at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands, explains how Chinese investment in Greece has facilitated closer bilateral relations, turning Greece into a reliable friend.
WPR: How extensive has China’s investment in Greece been since the debt crisis, and in what sectors has it focused?
Rem Korteweg: In 2010, at the height of the eurozone crisis, China’s Cosco group reached an agreement with Athens to buy the port of Piraeus, the country’s largest container terminal. Now, Piraeus is majority Chinese-owned. Cosco has 51 percent of the shares, and that proportion could expand to 67 percent by 2020. Seven of the port’s 11 executives are Chinese.