With President Xi Jinping’s signature ‘Belt and Road’ initiative gaining momentum, more countries will be negotiating with China for inward investment in infrastructure. Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, says that his own experience was highly encouraging.
Greece and China, two ancient civilizations, two countries whose peoples have had a long experience and quite recently of colonialism, of being treated like the sick men of the world – Europe, in our case; Asia in the case of China. In 2015, when I was conducting negotiations with the Chinese side, in parallel to the negotiations we were having with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, I was very pleasantly surprised by the way in which the Chinese authorities managed to combine their sense of self-interest with a patient investment attitude and a genuine commitment to renegotiate and negotiate and discuss again and again and again with us, with a view to achieving a mutually advantageous agreement. The discussions began regarding the Port of Piraeus, where COSCO, a state-owned Chinese company, already had their foot in the door, so to speak, and there was a discussion about how to extend its operations. They were very surprised when I proposed to them that this should be part of a broader investment exercise in Greece by China, involving railways, technology parks, involving all sorts of activities where our economy needed patient capital, like shipbuilding and shipyards and tourism. We came to a magnificent agreement. They showed broadmindedness, they were prepared to accept collective bargaining agreements with trade unions. They were prepared to take it step by step in a way that would, of course, benefit them, but would also benefit us in a non-colonial manner. What stopped it was an intervention by Berlin insisting that no deal should go through until and unless the eurozone had finished with the Greek government.
Writing for PS since 2015, 33 Commentaries
Yanis Varoufakis, a former finance minister of Greece, is Professor of Economics at the University of Athens.