China has seen few setbacks in their impressive expansion over the past decade, reaching deep into parts of five continents. While ownership of the Greek port would have been a significant achievement, they are still benefiting from a series of long-term leases throughout the world that guarantee their access to various sea ports.
On January 26, the left-wing SYRIZA group took control of the Greek government, which ran on a platform of ending (or lessening) austerity and stopping the wholesale divestment of Greek assets. One of their first objectives was to stop the sale of the Piraeus port to a subsidiary of the COSCO shipping conglomerate.
Privatization has become widely unpopular among the Greek population because it is largely seen as a fire sale of Greek assets to appease EU demands for further bailout funds.
While spun on a positive note (COSCO still has a 35-year lease to operate out of the Piraeus port), they stood to acquire up to a 67 percent interest in the port (as well as others) if the privatization plans had advanced.
The Greek deputy minister in charge of shipping was quoted saying the COSCO deal itself would be reexamined “to the benefit of the Greek people.”
The lingering question is if American policymakers will seize a potential opportunity to preserve their own influence in the region and strengthen it.
“We plan to ask the Greek government to protect the rights and the legal interests of Chinese companies in Greece, including COSCO,” one Greek source quoted a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman.
Shipping conglomerate COSCO has managed the Piraeus port since 2008, increasing traffic through the port by 8-fold, according to the Chinese news. Chinese officials are emphasizing this increase in their efforts to regain support for privatization.
In 2014, China signed deals worth $5 billion with the previous Greek government during a state visit by Chinese Premiere Li, which are in jeopardy under the new left-wing government.
The lingering question is if American policymakers will seize a potential opportunity to preserve their own influence in the region and strengthen it. It is a topic that remains largely ignored on Capitol Hill and in the media. While Obama touched on improving trade partnerships some in his State of the Union address, speeches alone will not keep us competitive on the international stage.
The American way of life depends on our dominance in foreign trade, and our government needs to spend a lot more time focusing on how to buttress our trading relationships against the massive Chinese expansion. The time to act is now, not once we have lost all of our trading partnerships.