Greece is China's gateway to Europe

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who on Saturday concluded a three-day official visit to Greece, said the country could become "China’s gateway to Europe."

The question is now, whether Greece could become an entry point to Europe for China’s PV industry in particular.

Chinese delegates in Athens, led by Premier Li, brought gifts worth up to €6.5 billion (US$8.82 billion), mostly in the form of mutual agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) between the two states and Chinese and Greek businesses that, should they come to fruition, could transform the Greek economy and establish it as one of China’s strongest partners in Europe.

What is more significant, though, beyond the deals agreed, is the clear emergence of Greece as China’s strategic gateway to Europe.

China’s state-owned global shipping giant China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco) runs half the Piraeus Port, the biggest port in Greece, located next to the capital city, Athens.

On Friday, Premier Li and Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras visited the port to inaugurate a train container that transports Chinese goods from the premises of Cosco at Piraeus through the network of TrainOSE, the state-owned Greek railway company, to mainland Europe.

"The port of Piraeus may become China’s gateway to Europe" said Li at the inauguration. Some 80% of Chinese cargo reaching Europe is transported by sea, he added, and the use of Piraeus as a hub has reduced the time it takes to transport Chinese exports to the EU by between 7 and 11 days.

"We hope that, working together with Greece, we will make the port of Piraeus, one of the most competitive in the world and that it will participate in the construction and maintenance of the railway network from the port to mainland Europe in order to reduce the transfer time by a further one to two days" Li said.

China could invest in railway network

China is not only interested in expanding its presence at Piraeus – where analysts report Cosco is targeting the acquisition of a 67% stake – but officially expressed its interest in investing in Greece’s railway network.

Chinese gifts included Beijing’s interest in increasing its holding of Greek bonds the next time they are available on the international markets.

Regarding the PV sector, the two leaders did not comment, however on a joint statement, the Greek and Chinese premiers expressed their intention to promote Chinese efforts to secure an investment agreement between Beijing and the European Union.

That comment was construed by many reporters as a confirmation of the Greek government taking a Sinophile stance in the EU anti-dumping case regarding solar PV. Greece has already supported China against EU anti dumping fees in the past.

Greek PM Samaras also hinted at China’s interest in acquiring the Independent Power Transmission Operator (ADMIE), which the Greek government wants to privatise.

Of the several deals signed between the two parties, one that could bear PV fruit is the MoU between Enterprise Greece – formerly Invest in Greece – and China’s State Construction and Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), which has a portfolio of over 1.5 GW of installed PV in China.

The wind power sector was able to secure more concrete results with the signing of deals leading to the installation of 200 MW of wind power by 2017.

Premier Li’s visit brought the idea of setting up Chinese PV module assembly lines on Greek soil a step closer.

A steadily increasing number of Chinese goods are transported to Europe via Piraeus as the Chinese government appears to see Greece as a long-term partner.

Should the number of Greek assets bought or managed by Chinese interests increase as the EU-China AD-related minimum price agreement for modules starts to bite, it would come as no surprise to see Chinese PV manufacturers setting up assembly lines in Greece.