By Matthew Ehret
Many people have a difficult time thinking about the common themes linking Confucian China with the Christian west. As of the November state visit of Xi Jinping to Greece, it was demonstrated that the leading representatives of two of the oldest cradles of modern civilization had no troubles understanding each other. Prime Minister Mitsotakis signed 16 major trade deals with Xi Jinping and described the Chinese and Greeks as “carriers of great ancient civilizations that sealed the course of humanity”. Xi Jinping responded by recognizing the common roots of creative reason embodied in both civilizations by saying:
“Confucius and Socrates are two masks that cover the same face: The brightest face of human logic.”
Greece has long been a vital partner for China, as the Port of Piraeus is the second largest of all Europe and serves as the strategic node connecting the Maritime Silk Road with the land based Silk Road which connects Europe with China through the Middle East and Central Europe via a growing network of roads and railways. In recent years, China has become the major stake holder in the Port of Piraeus with the China Ocean Shipping Corporation increasing their ownership from its current 51% to 67% in 3 years when shipping throughput is scheduled to increase from 7 million to 10 million containers. This port is vital not only as an east-west route but also as an Africa-Eurasian connection too and Xi identified that fact when he said:
“China and Greece are partners for the establishment of one belt, one road. This initiative must be strengthened by the further development of your country. We look forward to implementing partnerships in many areas and we want to strengthen Piraeus’s role in transit and further enhance the transport capacity of the China-Europe land-to-sea express line,”
The majority of the new construction and upgrades of transportation routes and sea ports driving this increased inter-connectivity are occurring through China’s financial and technical assistance- and on that point, Greece is no exception.
A new member of the 16+1 (now 17+1) nations of Eastern and Central Europe which are cooperating with China, Greece has suffered greatly under years of austerity and privatizations with zero assistance for long term growth arising from Europe. In fact, over 90% of financial aid from Europe has only gone directly to debt servicing and less than 4% to the real economy. The only large scale funding to the real economy which Greek has found with the capability of rebuilding the economy has come from China, and so it is no wonder that the leaders of both nations struck a harmonious note.
Responding to the pressure being put on Greece to “resist Chinese hegemony” under certain western geopoliticians who are of a “Clash of Civilizations” frame of mind and are uncomfortable with a NATO member allying with a supposed enemy, President Pavlopoulos responded:
“Real civilizations do not clash. This is because they are, by their very nature, destined to be chosen and to serve humanity and peace. In other words, real civilizations build bridges of communication. They do not erect walls of separation.”
Announcing that China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank will soon be setting up offices in Greece to accompany those of the Bank of China which were set up in October, Xi Jinping stated:
“We want to demonstrate the positive synergy of our cooperation for positive growth. We have also decided to work more closely on international affairs for the multi-polar world and for peace. Confucius said that virtue is not left to stand alone. And Aristotle said that the true friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. These things unite our two great countries: equality, mutual respect, cooperation, an open mind, inclusive growth and a determination to move forward int eh future.”
Striking a spiritual tone of deep understanding, Xi Jinping visited the Acropolis with Greek President Pavlopoulos where the Greek leader called on the British to finally return the Parthenon Marbles (sometimes called the ‘Elgin marbles’), after Lord Elgin who stole them in 1815 when Greece was under Ottoman rule and sold them to the British Museum where they now stand. Pavlopoulos said:
“These marbles’ place is here and not in the British Museum. They are keeping them there illegally. We ask for your support.”
Xi Jinping then responded saying:
“Not only do I agree with the return of the Parthenon sculptures, but you will also have our support as we too have our own artefacts of Chinese culture outside the country and are trying to get them home.”
It is evident that the partnership of Greece and China are of both practical geopolitical as well as spiritual epistemological value as it offers the world a chance to analyse the most profound ideas relating the humanity, natural law, and the broader process of creative reason that unites all people of the earth in a common brotherhood.