Embracing the Dragon: Greece becomes the 17th plus 1

Tue, Feb 25, 2020, 4:30 pm
Location: 
Scheide Calwell House Room 103
Speaker(s): 
Sponsor(s): 
Organized by the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, with the support of The Paul Sarbanes '54 Fund for Hellenism and Public Service, co-sponsored by the EU Program

China’s increased engagement in Greece became apparent after winning a bid in 2009 that gave Chinese COSCO effective control over the port of Piraeus. Under Chinese ownership, the Greek harbor has emerged as the second-biggest container port in the Mediterranean and Europe’s biggest passenger port. For all Greek governments managing the financial crisis, China’s willingness to invest and expand its network of interests has been cultivated and welcomed. Even before the latest national election in the summer of 2019, former PM Tsipras had indicated that Greece would further attach itself to China’s network, by agreeing to join the 16+1 regional group of Central and Eastern European countries that privilege their relationship with China and are eager participants in the Belt and Road Initiative. The new government under Kyriakos Mitsotakis enthusiastically concurred and Greece became the 17th + 1. Xi Jinping’s Fall 2019 visit to Athens cemented the agreement and it was followed by declarations of good will that ranged from supporting Greece in its quest to bring back the Parthenon Sculptures to pursuing wider economic cooperation. Moreover, in a show of enthusiasm over the deepening partnership, the President of the Hellenic Republic expressed a desire for Greece to serve as a conduit for better SinoEuropean understanding. The expanding influence of China beyond “win win” economic cooperation that now includes a discussion of new norms, governance, values and politics, has the EU now openly declaring the PRC a “systemic rival” rather than an important collaborator. This talk will set the stage for a discussion of where SinoEuropean relations now stand and explore why and how a small country like Greece not only decided to so publicly embrace China, but believes that, as an ancient civilization, Greece is best suited to help spearhead a greater understanding of the two powers. It will, moreover, question whether such an undertaking reflects a fully studied strategic positioning or merely an opportunistic desire to attract investment without fully evaluating the possible consequences on the country’s alliances and socio-economic stability, especially as precarious geography makes Greece a hotspot for migration and military tensions in the East Mediterranean. Finally, it will offer some possibilities for how Greece might think more ambitiously and creatively about the kinds of opportunities its closeness to China might foster in order for the EU and the PRC to re-evaluate the way that they both imagine and continue to build their strategic partnership.

 

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