The Greek Central Archaeological Council has blocked a Chinese project in the city of Piraeus that would have damaged the historically important town. The decision is said to have put the investment project in limbo.
Blocking Chinese investments
Piraeus is a port town located in Attica. It has had a significant role in Greek history. Developed in the early 5th century B.C., it served as the transit point for all imports into Athens. It eventually became the chief harbor of Greece. Though the port’s relevance declined after the 4th century A.D., it again rose to prominence in the 19th century after the government of Greece declared Athens as the capital.
Currently, Piraeus is the main port of the country. It is the largest passenger port in all of Europe and services close to 20 million travelers every year. The China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) had set an ambitious multi-million dollar plan for the city. Cosco wanted to expand the port so that it could handle four new cruise berths. The company aimed to upgrade shipbuilding infrastructure in the region, convert a warehouse into a cruise passenger station, set up a new berth allocation system, construct a mall next to a terminal, and also build a five-star hotel in the Porto Leone area.
While the Greek government was initially enthusiastic about the proposed investments, the Central Archaeological Council basically blocked the project by claiming almost half the town as an important archeological site. As a consequence, Cosco’s US$400 million investments in Piraeus were rejected. The move also put deals worth US$1.7 billion between Cosco and the Greek government into limbo.
Some in the ruling party are skeptical about Chinese investments and want such projects to be deeply scrutinized. Greek media reported that the government might be delaying the Cosco project due to the upcoming elections this year. However, Deputy Prime Minister Yanis Dragasakis rejected such rumors.
“I don’t know there’s a delay here. This is not related to the election. It is related to the complexity of the decision to be made… This area is full of antiquities, [a] fact that requires all procedures to be followed properly. In any event, the investment for the port of Piraeus is a very, very important investment,” he said to South China Morning Post.
Joining China’s 16+1 initiative
Both the United States and the EU have been warning European nations about the risk of accepting Chinese investments. However, such warnings have not been heeded, and poorer countries in the region continue to flock toward China, hoping that investments from the Asian nation might stimulate their economies.
“Greece badly needs investment. We hope logic will prevail at the end of the day, which means we should take advantage of all opportunities and build on these prospects to further our collaboration. Greece will keep following a multidimensional policy, an inclusive policy, without excluding anyone,” Dragasakis said in a statement (Hellenic Shipping News).
At the recently concluded Cooperation of Central and Eastern European countries and China (CEEC-China) summit in Dubrovnik, Greece joined the group as the seventeenth member. CEEC-China, also known as the 16+1 initiative, is basically a group of 16 European nations who seek economic cooperation with China. With Greece joining in, the initiative will soon be renamed 17+1.
As Greece slips further into China’s clutches, fears of the U.S. and the EU seem to be coming true — Beijing is using its money to turn European countries against one another. Just a few years ago, Greece blocked the EU’s attempt at issuing a unified statement against China’s aggression in the disputed South China Sea. Instances of European countries taking the side of Beijing will only increase in the future as nations become more dependent on Chinese investments.