* Chinese PM in Greece to strengthen ties
* Greece seeks Chinese investment in ports, roads,
(Adds joint statement)
By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS, June 20 China wants to invest in
Greece's airports, railways and its busiest port, the two
countries said on Friday, as the country where the euro debt
crisis began seeks a role as China's gateway into Europe.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is on a three-day trip to Greece
to strengthen economic ties between the nations, who have drawn
closer since China's Cosco Pacific won a 35-year
concession in 2009 to upgrade and run two container cargo piers
at the Piraeus port.
Greece, which relies on bailout loans from the European
Union and the International Monetary Fund, desperately needs
foreign investment to spur growth and create jobs as it
struggles to exit a six-year recession.
China - which has already submitted a bid to buy a majority
stake in Piraeus - is also eyeing the construction of an 800
million-euro airport in Crete and the main airport in Athens
when the government puts it on sale later this year, Greek
officials said. Development Minister Nikos Dendias said the two
sides also discussed a high-speed rail project.
"China attaches great importance to Greece's unique
geographic advantage of being a gateway to Europe and, in that
light, is prepared to intensify its cooperation with Greece in
basic infrastructure such as ports, roads, (and) railways," the
two governments said in a joint statement.
Both sides have sought to play up Greece's strategic
location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, saying
the country could become a hub for channelling goods from the
world's second-largest economy and top exporter into Europe.
"Greece, apart from a sea trade gateway, can also become a
transit hub for air transport," Greek Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras said. "Ports but also airports, such as the Athens
International Airport and the International Airport in Heraklion
in Kasteli, are the object of Chinese interest."
"Piraeus port can become a gateway of China to Europe," Li
said during a visit to Cosco's facilities at Piraeus.
Li, who on Thursday promised Greeks his country would remain
a "long-term investor" in Greek bonds, on Friday said China
would encourage its businesses to cooperate with Greek companies
that repair ships.
Greece has the largest shipping fleet in the world, and
Greek shipowners transport about 60 percent of China's imported
oil and more than half its exported goods, Greek Shipping
Minister Militiadis Varvitsiotis said.
China has been steadily ratcheting up its interest in Greek
assets in recent years.
Cosco Pacific has said it wants to turn Piraeus into a
regional hub and sought to expand port facilities and construct
an oil refuelling jetty, a 230 million-euro ($314 million)
investment which needs to be approved by the European
Cosco has also expressed interest in acquiring a 67 percent
stake in the port.
Chinese grid operator China State Grid Corp (SGCC) is among
five suitors bidding for a controlling stake in Greek power grid
operator ADMIE. Chinese conglomerate Fosun is part of
a consortium developing the former Athens airport complex called
Hellenikon - Greece's biggest privatisation project, budgeted at
7 billion euros.
"Greece welcomes the interest by Chinese businesses to take
part in the Greek government's privatisation programme and
declares its intention to provide the necessary facilitations
and every support," the joint statement read.
This is the second time a Chinese premier has visited Greece
since Athens acknowledged in 2009 that its finances were in deep
"The affair between the two economies started in 2004-2008.
In 2010 the appetite for trade cooperation was official and now,
in 2014, we see that there is a strong will to make it deeper,"
George Xyradakis, an adviser to the China Development Bank in
Greece, told Reuters.
(Editing by Deepa Babington, Larry King)