Greece and China

Socrates and Confucius, An Encounter

I just spent a few weeks in Greece, on holiday. Greece has been through a lot of stress since the 2008+ financial crisis (I think the country should have declared bankruptcy), but now it has a “friend”: China.

China is investing in Greece’s largest port, exporting plenty of goods to Greece, and also building “soft” ties like these ==>

The accompanying text (left) is a bit cringe (click to enlarge), but it is typical for Chinese diplomacy: allowing for some overlap between China’s greatness and that of the supplicant country. (There was also an American-sponsored plaque at this location. It was all about how the Americans were proud to pay for restoring Greek history, under the direction of Greeks. No USA! USA! I miss the old days…)

So my story here is simple: China, as Greece’s new “friend,” is not such a good friend.

It goes like this: Greece is that girl in school who has not taken good care of herself. Yes, she’s a bit obese, but she’s facing issues beyond her control as best she can. Sadly, the cool kids — France and Germany — are not that interested in obese Greece (they even tease her!), so Greece is a bit depressed. But China is there! China says nice things to Greece, helps her with her ports and economy. China is a real friend. Why not date?

So then Greece ends up pregnant, and China is busy. “But China — we were friends and now I’m pregnant — can’t you help me?”

After some silence, China reacts: “Sure you can have my kid, but I’m not gonna support you, and neither will anyone else, since it’s my kid. I’ll call you later… maybe.”

The story, in other words, is that Greece — like many countries participating in China’s “Belt and Road initiative” — is getting fucked (watch this), and it’s not going to turn out well.

Just remember what’s happened to Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.

My one-handed conclusion is that China’s “friendship” is worse than isolation and poverty.

* Why do so many countries accept it? China is totally fine about bribing rulers who don’t care about their citizens and then leaving those citizens with debts even heavier than the French or Germans might assess.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “Greece and China”

  1. Considering that China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is not a totally new phenomenon and therefore this move was not that unpredictable, what would you suggest should have happened in order to avoid this (especially since the EU has already given Greece loads of financial assistance)?

    1. Good question. The EU is not going to compete with CN in “overlooking” corruption (an issue), just as it will not give money without conditions, so I’d say that the EU needs to focus on citizens (e.g., poverty, migration, security) in ways that CN cannot. if it just comes down to convincing politicians to favor EU or CN, then EU will lose with corrupt politicians.

      One potential idea: direct money student aid to poorer EU countries, so their students can study in richer ones. CN would never do that, and individual learning (e.g., Erasmus) builds “the European project” over time.

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