China’s increased engagement in Greece became apparent after winning a bid in 2009 that gave Chinese COSCO effective control over the port of Piraeus. Under Chinese ownership, the Greek harbor has emerged as the second-biggest container port in the Mediterranean and Europe’s biggest passenger port. For all Greek governments managing the financial crisis, China’s willingness to invest and expand its network of interests has been cultivated and welcomed. Even before the latest national election in the summer of 2019, former PM Tsipras had indicated that Greece would further attach itself to China’s network, by agreeing to join the 16+1 regional group of Central and Eastern European countries that privilege their relationship with China and are eager participants in the Belt and Road Initiative. The new government under Kyriakos Mitsotakis enthusiastically concurred and Greece became the 17th + 1. Xi Jinping’s Fall 2019 visit to Athens cemented the agreement and it was followed by declarations of good will that ranged from supporting Greece in its quest to bring back the Parthenon Sculptures to pursuing wider economic cooperation. Moreover, in a show of enthusiasm over the deepening partnership, the President of the Hellenic Republic expressed a desire for Greece to serve as a conduit for better SinoEuropean understanding. The expanding influence of China beyond “win win” economic cooperation that now includes a discussion of new norms, governance, values and politics, has the EU now openly declaring the PRC a “systemic rival” rather than an important collaborator. This talk will set the stage for a discussion of where SinoEuropean relations now stand and explore why and how a small country like Greece not only decided to so publicly embrace China, but believes that, as an ancient civilization, Greece is best suited to help spearhead a greater understanding of the two powers. It will, moreover, question whether such an undertaking reflects a fully studied strategic positioning or merely an opportunistic desire to attract investment without fully evaluating the possible consequences on the country’s alliances and socio-economic stability, especially as precarious geography makes Greece a hotspot for migration and military tensions in the East Mediterranean. Finally, it will offer some possibilities for how Greece might think more ambitiously and creatively about the kinds of opportunities its closeness to China might foster in order for the EU and the PRC to re-evaluate the way that they both imagine and continue to build their strategic partnership.

Sophia Kalantzakos, Global Distinguished Professor in Environmental Studies and Public Policy at New York University-Abu Dhabi, is a Fung Global Fellow, 2019-20, at the Princeton Insitute for International and Regional Studies. She pursues interdisciplinary research focused on environmental governance, public policy and geopolitics, especially resource competition and climate change as threats that are reshaping power politics across the globe. Her most recent books include  China and the Geopolitics of Rare Earths and The E.U., U.S., and China Tackling Climate Change: Polices and Alliances for the Anthropocene. She heads eARThumanities, the Environmental Humanities Research Initiative at NYU-Abu Dhabi. During her time as a Fung Fellow, Kalantzakos will examine how China’s rise, its vision for the Belt and Road Initiative, shifting power relations, and the land and maritime “reunification” of Eurasia and Africa have begun to reshape global institutions, norms and governance structures provoking a renewed intellectual debate over global relations and exchanges.

Supported by the Paul Sarbanes ’54 Fund for Hellenism and Public Service

Event Co-sponsor(s)
Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS)
European Union Program