Samaras sees Greece as crucial link between Europe and China

Full text of prime minister's speech to Chinese Academy of Sciences

Samaras defends government's austerity measures, saying that the country's high debt had to be dealt with. Acknowledging the high levels of unemployment, he predicted that 'by October the economy will have liquidity and we expect a lot from tourism. We will have 17m tourists this year and we want an increase in Chinese visitors to our country to make that 18m next year'

An officer adjusts the bayonet on the rifle of a member of the honour guards as they prepare for a welcoming ceremony for the visiting Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) An officer adjusts the bayonet on the rifle of a member of the honour guards as they prepare for a welcoming ceremony for the visiting Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) The full text of Antonis Samaras' address to the Chinese Academy of Sciences follows:

Dear friends,

It is a great honor and real pleasure for me - and for all the members of the Greek delegation – to be here in China today. For some of us, like myself, this is the first time and this has always been my dream; it is a life-long destination that I have finally reached. And it’s definitely Mr. President a great honor for me to be here, in this Academy of such a great international importance.

May I first say that Chinese and Greeks, no matter how different we are in many aspects, we share something absolutely important and vital: We both carry a very rich cultural tradition with deep, very deep, influence over the centuries to all parts of the world.

We have both carved deep and long paths in history.

As some have said, other people count time in years or decades…

Chinese and Greeks count time in centuries and millennia!

We share other things too: Ancient China went through a period of “Spring and Autumn” during which “a thousand schools of thought” flourished. Ancient Greece had exactly the same experience, roughly during the same historical period in the Antiquity. When the pre-Socratic, naturalist philosophy produced the legendary “seven sages”, or wise men.

Ancient China had its period of “warring states”, between the 5th and the 3rd  centuries BC or BCE - Before our Common Era. About the same time, we experienced the same phenomenon, of Greek City States fighting for dominance amongst each other.

Back in the sixties and the early seventies, Chinese studies were not so much in fashion, in the rest of the world, as they are today. But, being a Greek, I was always interested in China. I remember long discussions with some of my friends, trying to figure out “parallels” and “distinctions” between our cultures:

-- Was Confucius closer to Plato or to Aristotle?
-- Was Sun Tzu closer to the strategic realism of Thucydides or to the tactical pragmatism and mastery of Xenophon?
-- Was General Sun Bin, this long descendant of Sun Tzu, a parallel to Alexander or to Ificrates? or to Miltiades for that matter?
-- Was Lao Tzu, or Lao Tse, a parallel to Pythagoras or to Heraclitus?

Members of the honour guards march during a welcoming ceremony for visiting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) Members of the honour guards march during a welcoming ceremony for visiting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) To tell you the truth, I never answered those questions, I don’t think that anybody has ever answered them in a satisfactory manner.

But in any case, there is one thing certain about all these: Chinese Culture and Greek Culture gave “meaning” to human societies, across the borders and across the ages. They both provided time-transcending ideals, principals, norms, rationality, ethics and aesthetics that enriched spirituality, beyond short-lived intellectual fashions, trivial concerns or momentary impressions.

Even in more recent time frames, our two countries, China and Greece, look so different in many aspects and yet so strikingly similar in many others.

Indeed, we are so different in size, location on the globe and social systems. And yet so similar in other respects: we both suffered dramatically from foreign aggression and occupation during the Second World War. Our peoples fought on the same side of the anti-fascist war and endured a lot of suffering. And this binds us together even more.

Finally, we both went through periods of painful transformation after the War. And we have covered a very long way in a very short time these last decades…

And, here comes another striking difference among us: China is now rapidly emerging as a world power, is a big world power. Greece, on the other hand, is striving to overcome one of the most severe social and economic crisis of the last 50 years; a crisis that, for a moment, jeopardised all of our achievements in the last 30 years.

In a short and shallow perspective, we seem to be on different “trajectories” or in opposing “phases”. But in a broader and longer perspective, our destinies are closer than most “outsiders” can suspect.

And this is precisely what I would mainly try to address today: Not the past of our countries, but our common prospects in the future. And I would not constraint my presentation to Greece alone. I would rather talk about Europe as a whole, of which Greece is and will remain an integral part.

What makes it even more relevant now is that in the first half of next year Greece will hold the Presidency of the European Union. And, I think, this is a unique opportunity to reshape Sino-European relations.

Of course, this is a much broader issue, extending way beyond Greece itself. It has to meet the consensus of all 27 members of our Union and all of our Institutions. But Greece can play a role in achieving it and this is what we intend to do. Because we believe it is to the best interests of all parties involved: Europe, China and Greece, of course.

Now China and Europe are two unique pillars of our International System. They are the first and third political entities world-wide, in terms of population. They haven’t posed any security threat for each other in the past. But they really need each other for a number of reasons, both economic and political, concerning trade and investment flaws as well as geopolitical concerns.

Admittedly, there are some obstacles in the construction of a deep bilateral relationship. But there is a common scope from both sides to overcome these obstacles. Europeans and Chinese need each other. They are wise enough, experienced enough and non-aggressive enough, to make it happen. The sooner we realise it, I believe the more successful we are going to be.

Already ten years have elapsed since the first Strategic Agreement between Europe and China. We believe that this can move much further and really faster…

Members of the honour guards line up as they prepare for a welcoming ceremony for the visiting Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) Members of the honour guards line up as they prepare for a welcoming ceremony for the visiting Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) Now, how does Greece come into play? For starters it is the natural “gateway” to China. Despite the fact that we are a relatively small country, our Commercial fleet is the largest in the world and has already provided a very large contribution in the trade between China and Europe. Bilateral trade means transportation. And this, in turn, means commercial routes, transportation means and infrastructures. We can have a serious contribution in all these fields: Greek ports, Greek airports, and Greek railways can be a part of large commercial network extending way beyond Greece in the European hinterland, from South East to North West.

Of course, this will not be the only path of trade between China and Europe; but both parties need “alternatives” to feel secure. And the “Greek gateway” can very well serve as a major route among other viable alternatives. We don’t regard ourselves as “competing” with others, in serving the Sino-European trade. We rather think in the context of complementing other potential trade routes…

One of the advantages of our proposal, however, is that most of the infrastructures exist. We need new construction works, mainly upgrading some of our ports and our railway system. And we already run a major multi-project privatisation plan, including concessions to many pieces of ready infrastructures.

We would want Chinese companies to play an active role in that. We can team up together to shape up this major gateway between China and Europe.

Moving beyond infrastructures, we know that on trade routes there is a large scope for logistics providers. We believe it would be an excellent idea if Chinese companies took this opportunity and invest on logistic services in Greece, as part of a plan to bring China and Europe closer.

Even beyond commercial routes, there is a large scope for communication networks. We know that this is an area where China is becoming more and more competitive on a world level. We strongly believe that all of Europe can benefit from such competition.

On the other hand, there is a special national scope for Greece in all these considerations: In Tourism, in Archaeological visits, in Primary Sector exports and manufacturing. We don’t produce very large quantities, at least for the scale of China. But we are proud for the quality of a number of our products: our extra-virgin olive oil which is the base for the famous Mediterranean diet; our fruits and vegetables - fresh, frozen or processed; our fisheries. All these and dozens more, present real opportunities for foreign trade and investment in manufacturing.

Most of you have some idea about these Greek competitive advantages. But, if you asked me, the five most important advantages of Greece, are not so well known abroad.

--Firstly, its unique coastal line: Our coasts are about as long as the coastline of all of Africa! This, including a unique archipelago of islands scattered in short distance from each other, offers vast opportunities for all kinds of economic activities, from sea sports to sailing and island hoping, to fishing and to transportation.

-- Secondly, a unique combination of historical sight-seeing, from the prehistoric to the modern era. In a neighbourhood of a few miles, you can visit temples from the classical period, the site of famous battlefields during the Roman years, monumental Byzantine churches of over thousand years, plus some of the most modern hotel resorts, close to sites from the ancient mythology. These combinations in the same vicinity present themselves literally all over Greece, from North to South, from East to West, from the legendary Mount Olympus to the Cycladic island of Delos, from one epicenter of our ancient civilisation to the next.

An attendant looks on during a signing ceremony hosted by China's Premier Li Keqiang and Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) An attendant looks on during a signing ceremony hosted by China's Premier Li Keqiang and Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) Not to mention unique natural sites of huge rocks, hanging as if from heaven, some of them even decorated on top with centuries-old monasteries.

-- Thirdly, an equally unique diversity of animal and plant life: From wild flowers and herbs, to life stock breads, providing all kinds of production, manufacturing and export opportunities.  

-- Fourthly, Educational and Cultural exchanges. We are a small nation that has learned and appreciated the potential of Education. Whenever we had stunning successes in our history, education had played a key role. We know that you share the same experience and the same conviction. So we can join forces.

Imagine an unprecedented dialogue between East and West Cultures. I can only express my pride for the fact that a Greek ship-owner, the late Vasilis Constantacopoulos, has helped establishing a Center of Hellenic Studies in the University of Beijing. I want to pay tribute to his contribution and to his memory. This is definitely a good start. And as they say, the sky is the limit!

So, imagine a dialogue between China and Greece, open to other parties, on philosophy, Mr. President, which you have studied so well, on mathematics, on comparative historical studies as well as on contemporary fields of applied science, as medicine, electronics and renewable energies. Joined research ventures between us, could really capture the attention of the spiritual world across continents and open up new roads for global understanding. I’ve just told at CCTV in an interview,  I had that somebody on the plane, as we were coming, was reading Sun Tzu. And I said, why was he doing this? Was he trying to find out about historic weaponry? Of course not. What he was searching was the dynamic part of the wisdom that was radiating through the book. It’s the wisdom you are looking for in Lao Tse, for instance, in Confucius for instance. What other countries, what other civilisations could ever open a such a dialogue and re-discuss the history and the development of the world through the ages talking about personalities of that high standard in the world of philosophy, for instance, or history. To such a dialogue can be a very important part of the synergies we can look for among our two countries.

--Last but not least, an immeasurable potential of human capital. We have talents and skills of thousands of Greeks, who have studied and excelled in Greek and foreign Universities. In almost any campus we can visit all over the western world, you will find large crowds of Greeks specialising on all fields of Science and Technology. Many of them are staying abroad because of the harsh recession that has hit Greece recently. And almost all of them would like to return to Greece and have a career commensurate to their education. The training and experience they have acquired is probably the most dynamic of the Greek advantage today.

--And may I add, ladies and gentlemen, a final geopolitical point: Greece is stably anchored in the European Union. But if one just looks on the map, he will certainly realise that the stability, the prosperity and the extraversion of Greece, can play a vital role to the east Mediterranean beyond Europe. This is a troubled region, where along with our partners, we can help keep it stable and keep it growth oriented. We know that China has a profound interest in the Middle East and in North Africa regions. And we understand that our potential stabilising role in this area is also something that you may appreciate.    

Now the good thing about all this is that we don’t have to start from the very beginning. We already have Chinese companies established in Greece, like Cosco in the major Greek and Mediterranean Port of Piraeus. And, I have to admit that during difficult times, the Cosco investment was a valuable relief for Greece, keeping employment and job security when everything else was collapsing. So, now Cosco is expanding in Piraeus…

We are also in the process of discussing plans for building a large airport hub from China to Europe and Northern Africa, based on the Greek island of Crete; or planning a privatisation for our modern Venizelos airport in Athens, one of the most profitable commercial airports in our part of the world. We find advanced Chinese interest about that airport as well.

Indeed things have already taken place between our countries. There are two memoranda of strategic cooperation signed up since 2006. Some of them opened new grounds and came to fruition. In other aspects, however, things have stagnated, mainly due to the deep crisis Greece found itself in, since 2009. 

China's Premier Li Keqiang (R) and Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras gesture as they talk during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) China's Premier Li Keqiang (R) and Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras gesture as they talk during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) And this brings us to the last thing I would like to focus upon.

Contrary to what was the case just a year ago, everybody is now recognising Greece’s success regarding the implementation of its fiscal consolidation programme, believe me a very difficult and painful programme. Greece is also praised by European authorities and the international press for its resolve to push for bold structural reforms. 

So we are now more than half the way through to make a real comeback, a way more than half through!

We have already achieved the largest debt restructuring in history, without default!

We have already concluded more than two-thirds of the most ambitious fiscal  consolidation plan ever implemented, bringing down our deficit by more than 10 percentage points of GDP in three years; eliminating completely our primary deficit; covering three-quarters of our gap of competitiveness, while losing - please listen to this, you will realise how painful this is - 20 to 25% of our GDP in 4 years!

These are important records on all counts; records of achievement; but also records of painful transformation of the entire country.

So, you see Greece is transforming. It is changing the image abroad. And it is changing in essence at home. 

So, whatever stagnated in the past, can gain new momentum.

And whatever succeeded in the most difficult circumstances in the recent years, can definitely succeed even more in the years to come.

With this opportunity, I want to thank you today on behalf of all Greeks! During our most difficult moments in the last three years, China stood on our side. In a way that was very discrete, very steady and very comforting for us. With your public statements you supported Europe; you supported Greece’s efforts to stay in the Euro! We felt it back home. And we won’t forget it. 

China's Premier Li Keqiang (R) gestures to Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras before reviewing the honour guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) China's Premier Li Keqiang (R) gestures to Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras before reviewing the honour guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 16, 2013 (Jason Lee, Reuters) The “Greek comeback” is already been reflected in the international markets, where if you look at the spreads– the gauge for country risk – have receded by about two-thirds of their record levels a year ago.

Things are happening indeed! Greece is changing spectacularly, and Greek-Chinese relations have already made “inroads” that we are now ready to expand.

Since I know how much you value sincerity and since this is exactly what we value the most, I want to tell you this:

I wouldn’t be here, if we hadn’t turned in Greece our ship around.

I wouldn’t be here, if  we hadn’t succeeded in making a “comeback”.

But I am here, standing in front of you, because I can look at you straight in the eyes and tell you that, whatever has already worked in our relations so far, we can now speed it up, expand it, built on it. Whatever has not worked, we can fix it and we can make it happen.

Our biggest political capital right now is the credibility we have managed to regain as a country, in a very short period of time. We have built our credibility in Europe, and - believe me again- it wasn’t easy.

We are now expanding our credibility beyond Europe.

To sum it up, let me give a few key-words:

--“Honour”! Chinese and Greeks perfectly understand what it means. It is a basic trait, characteristic, in both our Histories.
--“Virtue”! Chinese and Greek certainly understand it. It is a key concept in both our Cultures.
--Greece emerging as a “Gateway” between China and Europe. It is a prospect very significant for both of us.
-- Building together this “Cultural bridge” I talked before about between East and West! It can have a tremendous impact world-wide. And we can make it happen.

Finally: Turning Greece from a “scapegoat of Europe” to a major success story, has a symbolism much larger than Greece. It is a message that Europe can solve its problems and return to growth as well.

The “Greek comeback” will also symbolise a “European comeback”.

To make a long story short, we want China to be a part of this success story.

Thank you very much

Question: You talked about structural reform and fiscal consolidation. These measures have played an important role in working out of the crisis and were also serve long term growth. My question is, going forward are you going to bring measures to stimulate short-term growth? And if there is any, how will you prevent conflict between the short-term measures and long term fiscal consolidation measures?

Samaras: Thank you for the question. Look, austerity measures and tight fiscal policy were necessary, because our debt had expanded in an incredible manner. If you do not want to be depended on foreign creditors and if you want to have the possibility of standing on your own feet, you have to go through fiscal changes, in order to get rid of the huge debt problem. Our debt problem was so big that it had created spillover effects all over Europe. And this is what had created this unbelievable concept of the Grexit. We had to fight this. It was a national bet we had to win. And I can really tell you we are winning it, because if you see simply the market and the spreads and the fact that “Fitch”, for instance, gave us back the B- position from the last one we used to be, which was basically called “junk bonds”, one can realise that the difference is there today.

On the other hand, we have a real problem and this is called unemployment. Unemployment has reached the incredible level of 27% overall. They have huge problems in France, with 10,3%. We have 60% unemployment among the youth over 15 years old, 60%! This is reaching a level of unbelievable social pain and dramatic problems in the area of social cohesion. So, we have to face this. How do you face it?

Through the loans you got, through the funds, which are basically structural funds you can get from the Europeans, as we did, through investments that we are asking for, through privatisations we are doing, you can form what you call a shorten policy also. And you can allow money to circulate in a dehydrated economy, where starting from May up to the end of October I believe there is going to be enough rain in this dehydrated economy also from tourism, where this year we are hopefully going to break the record of 17 million people coming to Greece. I would love to make it 18 million with the Chinese next year.

But what is important is that we are planning in a manner, so that we can have also a specific strategy for the problem of unemployment, which has been caused by what you’ve called “extreme austerity”. So, on the one hand yes, fiscal consolidation was absolutely necessary, on the other hand, yes, we need fiscal stimulus, which can come through those measures I’ve just mentioned. And I think that this balance, I think that this absolutely need of the harmony, which is another well known word both for Chinese and Greeks, is something that you have to follow. It has to be harmonious. It cannot be overextended towards the A or the B part of it. It has to be balanced and this is what we are trying to do.

Question:  Your Excellency, good morning. I’m … from the Institute for European Studies and someone that has immense interest in Greece and I benefited a lot from your excellent presentation this morning. (..) China and Greece established a comprehensive, strategic partnership in 2006, but cooperation in the various areas is still imbalanced, you‘ve mentioned on many times that there are many ways to increase our cooperation and advance cooperation in various areas. My question is what preferential policies or good policies that you have to attract Chinese investment?

Samaras: Strategic relation is, I believe, a relation that is not tactical and is not short-term. A relation which is strategic is one which is based on long-term and stable consideration. It cannot be time constrained. You cannot ask someone to help you just because you are in danger now and then forget about him after the danger is over. What I believe is important is that we have a strategic relationship in terms of the deep realisation that the two countries can have sustained long-term synergies in the very long run, little by little. You know I don’t want to create the impression that one can be so optimistic and dream things that cannot happen.

I much more believe in the steady dreams of what your new President has talked about. It’s a dream that is tangible and the things we are talking about for attracting, for instance, Chinese investments in Greece is something tangible. We have specific areas we are going to have privatisation procedures, open bidding processes where the Chinese will participate. They have already come to Greece many times, some of them I had the pleasure and honour to see them in my office. We will be there for a long time. We want to expand, we want to create job opportunities. The word “jobs” is the number one word that comes to my mind every morning when I see this unemployment level. And I know that China can really help. You are expanding all over the world. We are at the South-eastern part of Europe, we are at the tip of Europe, we are the borders of Europe. In an area where all the large commercial routes are starting to go to Asia. And geopolitically and geostrategically we are there. It’s obvious if you open the map, it’s obvious. And it’s again even more obvious if you open a history book, that we can have this deep relationship together, which will be based, however, on a strategic concept of cooperation, which by definition, I repeat, is not short-term. And what I’m trying to say, what I’m trying to convey to everyone is that over and above my government or your government this is history.

I told the CCTV before, this morning, that we are not living in a cold era any more, Cold War era any more. We are not living even in a post-Cold War era any more. We are living in a new era. Everything has changed. We have jettisoned the past. And we are investing in the future. And if the two countries with the largest, most important world renowned, well known, unbelievable history do not merge their forces to create such synergies, if we do not do it, nobody else can do it. And we can do it, because of our “common DNA”, which is written in our history in a long-term fashion that others cannot follow. We have always followed it.

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