One Port, Two Worlds: China Seeks Dominance in Athens Harbor

Russia and China are both successfully putting a wedge between America and Europe. With their tightening grip on Athens, Europe is threatened in its own homeland and will eventually decide to turn their backs on America. The alternative is to risk potential military conflict with Russia. In the future you will likely see a third marriage between Russia and Europe — and Russian military bases in Greece.

 

A Chinese executive with shipping company Cosco has helped transform part of Athen’s Port of Piraeus into a success story. The multinational firm now has a controversial plan to acquire the whole facility and put it on track to join the ranks of Hamburg and Rotterdam.

One could argue that China’s long path to Piraeus, Greece, began on April 27, 1961. It’s the day Mao Zedong founded the communist state’s first freight company, the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO). The Great Leap Forward, Mao’s plan for industrialization, had proven to be a disaster at the time, leaving millions dead or starving. With Cosco, China had its eyes on overseas markets.

Almost 54 years later, the company is steering toward a major prize in Greece. After lengthy wavering, the Greek government– comprised of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, his far-left Syriza party and the right-wing populist Independent Greeks — has announced it will be selling the majority of its share in Athens’ Piraeus Port Authority. So far, Cosco is the most promising bidder.

Throughout, Fu Cheng Qui, or “Captain Fu,” as the chief executive of Cosco’s Piraeus subsidiary is called by those who know him, will be closely monitoring the bidding process. Fu has already been in Piraeus for a long time with the company, and he is determined to stay. He has placed the bid on behalf of his company and has little doubt it will be accepted.

In his position, 65-year-old Fu is the guardian of China’s gateway to Europe. He may soon control the container piers, cruise-ship terminals and ferry quays of Greece’s biggest port.

“The government has changed four times since I have been in Greece,” Fu says. “They all always talk a lot. But what counts? Actions count. Actions! Only actions!”

On the way to the cargo port, a small sign indicates a fork in the road — with one route leading to OLP and the other to PCT. Each to a different world. Pier I belongs to the primarily Greek state-owned OLP port authority. These days, though, most trucks take the other route, to PCT, to pier II and pier III, which is run by Piraeus Container Terminal, a subsidiary of Cosco.

“Just look,” Fu says as he steps up to the window. Then the show begins. On Pier II, 11 container gantry cranes are in constant, powerful movement. All are new and made in China. Trucks move across the ground at an interval of only minutes.

Piraeus has become the story of two worlds — that of the turbo capitalism of the successors to Mao Zedong on the one side, and a market economy that can move as slowly as a Socialist one on the other. Some people see the port as a symbol of the country’s future. It’s an image that is a horrific one for many, including a large portion of Syriza voters.

China’s Foothold in Europe

But China is thinking far into the future. Piraeus is the closest port in the northern Mediterranean to the Suez Canal. From here, it can conquer the EU domestic market. Recently, three freight trains began leaving the port each week. “Those are peanuts, of course,” Fu says. “But it’s only the beginning.”

When Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited the port in June, Piraeus was described as China’s gateway to Europe: China’s exports could reach Germany, Hungary and Austria “between seven and 11 days” faster, he said. Huawei, the electronics conglomerate, has already opened a logistics center right at the port.

Fu says it wouldn’t be a major disaster for the company if Greece were to leave the euro zone. “We are part of the CKYHE shipping alliance,” he explains. “We have holdings in ports in Genoa and Port Said, inside and outside of the euro zone.” A Grexit would largely pose an accounting problem — at least initially.

A New Monopoly

A few hundred meters from Fu’s new world is the office of the Union of Dockworkers, headed by Nick Georgiou. He looks like a man who’s carried a lot of sacks, fought lots of battles and smoked too many cigarettes. He’s also a man who wouldn’t describe the conditions at Pier II as being one big happy family.

Georgiou speaks of work accidents that have been covered up, a lack of emergency vehicles, neo-Nazi members of the Golden Dawn making themselves at home on the Chinese side of the pier. But he blames the troika as being the true culprits. “The EU has wanted to push through the liberalization with the port workers,” he says. “Cosco is merely the means to an end.” Since the Chinese began running the port, the wages in the Greek-run part have gone down as well.

For his part, Georgiou doesn’t want to accept that his company, the Piraeus Port Authority, derived one-third of its income over the past year from rental fees paid by Cosco. He takes a long drag of his cigarette, before adding, “Piraeus was partly privatized back then in order to break up a monopoly. Now the rest is also supposed to be sold. Then we’ll have a monopoly again, but a Chinese one.”

Full article: One Port, Two Worlds: China Seeks Dominance in Athens Harbor (Spiegel Online)

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