Boxed In at the Docks: How a Lifeline From China Changed Greece
2019-08-14 11:23

On a steamy night earlier this summer, about a thousand people poured into a public square in Athens to cheer on Greece’s leading left-wing politician, Alexis Tsipras. Tsipras was in the waning weeks of his term as Prime Minister—and trailing in a race against a pro-business opponent. 

在今年夏天早些时候的一个闷热的夜晚,大约1000人涌入雅典的一个公共广场,为希腊主要左翼政治家亚历克西斯齐普拉斯(Alexis Tsipras)欢呼。齐普拉斯正处于总理任期的最后几周,在竞选中落后于其亲商界的对手。

Leaping onto a makeshift stage in front of a banner reading “We have the power,” Tsipras shouted over the crowd. “This is a battle between two worlds, the elites against the many!” Then he took aim at foreign companies eyeing investment prospects in Greece, one of the countries hardest hit by Europe’s long financial crisis. “We have managed to get back to growth after eight straight years of recession,” Tsipras said. “Electricity, health, education, water, energy—they are not for sale!”

齐普拉斯跳到一面写着“我们有力量”的横幅前面临时搭建的舞台上,对着人群大喊。“这是两个世界之间的一场战斗,也是精英与普通大众之间的较量!” 然后,他把矛头指向了那些关注希腊投资前景的外国公司,而希腊又是长期饱受欧洲金融危机影响最严重的一个国家。齐普拉斯说:"在连续8年的经济衰退之后,我们已经想方设法地让经济恢复到了增长态势。“电、健康、教育、水及能源——这些都是非卖品!”

The promise to keep the country’s state-owned assets in Greek hands elicited a deafening roar. And yet Tsipras didn’t mention the most prized Greek asset of all: the port of Piraeus. Situated at the edge of Athens—a short sail from the Middle East and Africa—the port has been a strategic jewel for nearly 2,500 years, ever since the Athenians and Spartans defeated the Persian emperor in a nearby sea battle for Mediterranean supremacy. But as the crowd in the square knew, Tsipras’s own government had sold off Piraeus, years earlier, to a modern-day empire intent on expanding its own power: China.


When Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the ambitious vision he called the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, in 2013, he had commerce, not conquest, in mind. Xi announced that China would build a network of highways and rail lines (the “belt”) and sea routes (the “road”) across thousands of miles, linking Asia to Europe and Africa. The idea was to re-create the old Silk Road—the trade routes between East and West that were the foundations of the world’s first truly global commerce. The ultimate strategic goal: to expand and solidify a web of trading relationships that would cement China’s position as a dominant economic and political power for decades to come. 



Piraeus has become a showcase display of the BRI in action—a project capable of transforming not just one port but perhaps an entire economy. It’s also an object lesson in the ways China’s biggest companies both execute and benefit from the BRI. The port has been majority-owned since 2016 (and operated since 2009) by China Cosco Shipping—a state-owned giant established nearly 60 years ago by Communist founding father Mao Zedong. 



When Cosco stepped in, Piraeus “was a pretty backward container terminal that nobody took seriously,” says Olaf Merk, the ports and shipping expert at the International Transport Forum at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “China saw an opportunity that was underdeveloped.” New management has brought dizzying change: This year, the port will handle five times as much cargo volume as it did in 2010, according to the Piraeus Port Authority. And it’s on track to become the biggest container port in the Mediterranean, perhaps as soon as this year, overtaking Valencia in Spain. 

经济合作与发展组织(OECD) 国际运输论坛的港口和航运专家拉夫•默克(Olaf Merk)表示,”当中远介入时,比雷埃夫斯“是一个相当落后的集装箱码头,没有人认真对待过它。” 中国看到了一个不太发达的机会。新的管理带来了令人眼花缭乱的变化:比雷埃夫斯港务局(Piraeus port Authority)表示,该港口今年的吞吐量将是2010年的5倍。而且,它有望成为地中海最大的集装箱港口,最快可能在今年超过西班牙的瓦伦西亚。

Cosco, meanwhile, has undergone its own rapid growth, thanks in large part to the BRI and to substantial Chinese government support. After several mergers with other transport companies, Cosco is now the third-biggest shipping company in the world by volume, with $43 billion in revenue—and significant stakes in other ports that ring Europe. 


In recent years, China has trumpeted Piraeus as a model for what the BRI can achieve. And its impact is visible throughout Athens: in more jobs at the port, in Chinese-language advertisements for local real estate, and in plans to remake Piraeus as a tourist destination for the burgeoning Chinese upper classes. 



But Piraeus’s revival also coincides with growing doubts in Europe about the strings attached to Chinese investment—as leaders question whether its sheer scale is a threat to Europe’s sovereignty, and perhaps even its security. Already, the political landscape in Greece has shifted in ways critics see as too friendly to China. Chinese naval vessels have docked at Piraeus—raising hackles at NATO, of which Greece is a member. This spring, as Xi toured the continent to stump for the BRI, European Union leaders issued a tough statement that for the first time called China a “systemic rival” whose political values—a centralized government with no tolerance for dissent, run by a leader with a lifelong grip on power—clash with Europe’s own.



The EU also called out Chinese state-owned enterprises like Cosco for having unfair advantages over the continent’s own private-sector companies. “The balance of challenges and opportunities presented by China has shifted,” the EU statement warned. Whether that balance should still tip toward cooperation is a debate now playing out on Piraeus’s docks.


When Westerners think about competition with China, the conversation often involves advanced technology—think artificial intelligence or 5G Internet. But the BRI underscores the importance of the infrastructure of trade itself: railways, roads, harbors. Ports may be the most vital link in that network. Roughly 90% of goods traded internationally makes its way around the world by sea. Control the shipping lanes and ports, and you wield great power over the global economy. “Xi thought, ‘What will my legacy be?’ ” says Nicolas Vernicos, a fourth-generation Greek shipowner and vice chairman of the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce, a trade organization headquartered in China. “He decided to be the Marco Polo of the 21st century.”

当西方人想到与中国的竞争时,他们的谈话内容往往涉及先进技术——比如人工智能或5G互联网。但是,“一带一路”倡议强调了贸易基础设施本身的重要性:铁路、公路和港口。端口可能是该网络中最重要的链接。大约90%的国际贸易货物都是通过海运送达世界各地的。只有控制了航道和港口,你就对全球经济拥有了巨大的影响力。第四代希腊船东、总部位于中国的贸易组织丝绸之路国际商会(Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce)副主席尼古拉斯·韦尼科斯(Nicolas Vernicos)说道,“习主席想,‘我的遗产会是什么?'",“他决定成为21世纪的马可·波罗。"

If completed, the BRI will be one of history’s biggest infrastructure projects. Already Chinese companies are laying highways, operating ports, and creating railway networks in as many as 60 countries as varied as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan. Chinese government spending and subsidies keep the shovels moving. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that China has spent about $200 billion on BRI projects so far; that investment could reach $1.2 trillion by 2027, according to Morgan Stanley. The result, Xi said in 2015, will bring “a real chorus comprising all countries along the route, not a solo for China.”

建成后,“一带一路”将成为历史上一个规模最大的基础设施项目。中国公司已经在斯里兰卡、马来西亚和哈萨克斯坦等60多个国家铺设高速公路、运营港口,并建立铁路运输网络。中国政府的支出和补贴一直推动着工程的前进步伐。美国外交关系委员会(Council on Foreign Relations)估计,到目前为止,中国在“一带一路”项目上已经投入了约2000亿美元;据摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)说,到2027年,这一项投资估计会达到1.2万亿美元。2015年,习近平曾表示,这一结果将带来“沿线所有国家的真正合唱,而不是中国的独唱。”

European voices make up only a small share of the chorus so far: The biggest BRI projects are underway in Asia and Africa. But outside of the BRI, Europe has seen Chinese investment rise quickly. With most EU economies still sluggish in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and heavy debt loads restraining government spending, Chinese companies have filled a void. 


Indeed, as trade tensions impair China’s ability to invest in the U.S., Europe now accounts for almost a quarter of China’s direct foreign investment—about $22 billion in the first half of 2018, according to law firm Baker McKenzie. State-owned ChemChina bought Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta in 2017, for $43.1 billion. In 2016, China’s Midea spent $5.3 billion to buy German robotics manufacturer Kuka—which, among other things, keeps Volkswagen’s factories ticking. Technology player Huawei, which the Trump administration has branded as a national-security threat, maintains its largest logistics center outside China in Hungary, where it employs 2,000 people.

事实上,贸易紧张关系确实削弱了中国在美国的投资能力。 根据贝克麦坚时律师事务所(Baker McKenzie)的数据来看,在中国2018年上半年的直接对外投资中,对欧洲的投资占了近四分之一,约220亿美元。2017年,中国化工斥资431亿美元收购了瑞士农业巨头先正达。2016年,中国美的斥资53亿美元收购德国机器人制造商库卡(kuka),这是大众汽车维持工厂运转的一项重要举措。技术公司华为(Huawei)在匈牙利拥有中国以外最大的物流中心,拥有2,000名员工。特朗普政府将华为列为国家安全威胁。

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“Money does not like a vacuum,” says Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s left-wing former finance minister, who helped negotiate the country’s bailout with the International Monetary Fund and the EU in 2015. Varoufakis blames EU leaders for leaving companies vulnerable to takeovers. “European decision-makers [are] keeping investment at the slowest level in history and leaving the Chinese to come in as the only investors,” he says. 

希腊左翼前财政部长亚尼斯•瓦鲁法基斯(Yanis Varoufakis)表示:“资金不喜欢真空。” 这位部长曾在2015年时帮助美国与国际货币基金组织(imf)就求助计划一事与欧盟进行过谈判。瓦鲁法基斯指责欧盟领导人让企业太容易被收购。他表示:“欧洲决策者正将投资保持在历史最低水平,让中国成为了唯一的投资者。”

Cosco has quietly become one of the busiest of those investors. Even before the BRI was unveiled, it began acquiring stakes in numerous key ports, piecing together a network of terminals around Europe. (The company signs long-term concessions with local governments; Piraeus is the only European port where it owns outright a controlling stake.) Its holdings include 47.5% of the huge Euromax terminal in the Dutch city of Rotterdam; 100% of the container port in Zeebrugge, Belgium; and stakes in terminals in Valencia and Bilbao, Spain. In Israel, on Europe’s edge, it’s building ports in Haifa and Ashdod. 

中远已悄然成为这些投资者中最繁忙的一家。早在“一带一路”倡议推出之前,它就已经开始收购多个关键港口的股份,并将欧洲各地的港口拼接成一张巨大的网络。(公司与地方政府签订长期优惠协议;比雷埃夫斯是唯一一个完全拥有控股权的欧洲港口。) 该公司持有荷兰鹿特丹Euromax大型航站楼47.5%的股份;比利时Zeebrugge集装箱港口100%的股份;以及西班牙巴伦西亚和毕尔巴鄂码头的股份。在欧洲边缘的以色列,中远正在海法和阿什杜德建设港口。

Cosco’s rise also shows how state-owned companies benefit when they subsume their strategy to the government’s grand plans. Growth and profitability are virtually assured—an advantage no U.S. or European company can match. “Operational losses of Cosco are compensated by state subsidies, and capital investments are made possible by generous credit lines,” explains Merk, the OECD analyst. 


China’s government has given an astonishing $1.3 billion worth of tax subsidies to Cosco since 2010, according to shipping-research organization Alphaliner. Alphaliner estimates that Cosco’s 2018 profit of $251 million from shipping activities was attributable almost entirely to subsidies, which Cosco reported at $230 million. State-owned banks offer other largesse, often in the form of low-interest loans. In 2016, China’s Export-Import Bank provided Cosco with $18 billion in financing to buy ships and acquire companies. In 2017, Cosco got $26 billion in financing from the China Development Bank for BRI projects—work that Cosco now leverages to expand globally. 


Cosco’s Chinese executive in Piraeus, Capt. Fu Cheng Qiu, declined multiple requests for interviews; Cosco officials elsewhere in Europe and China did not respond to interview requests. But publicly, the company’s officials aren’t shy about their plans for global growth. “Scale-up will still be the long-term trend for our industry,” Zhang Wei, executive director of Cosco’s port arm, said in April. 


When you drive into Piraeus, five miles from downtown Athens, past auto-body repair shops and small cafés, there is no sense that you’re entering a flash point of controversy. Though some 450,000 people live in the town and its surrounding neighborhoods, Piraeus has the feel of a suburb that has seen better days. At lunchtime, the plastic tables at the café on the pier fill with dockworkers, smoking cigarettes and discussing their lives over $5 plates of sardines—offering a window into the tumultuous decade they have endured.


Giorgos Alevizopoulos, a burly man of 64 with a mustache and beard, says he began working in the port at 17, in 1972—when shipbuilding was Greece’s powerhouse industry. He ultimately became a welder, working on vessels under repair or maintenance on dry and floating docks where dozens of small companies operate on piecemeal jobs.


But by early this century, work in Piraeus had slowed to a crawl, as companies sought cheaper repairs in other nations or patronized more modern shipyards. Years of labor strife also reduced the port’s appeal. Alevizopoulos says he worked only about 50 days a year between 2005 and 2014. “My entire life changed, and my outlook on life changed. I even contemplated sui/cide,” he says. “Some days we just ate bread. If there was a question about what we eat that day, the answer was always whatever is cheapest.”

但直到本世纪初,比雷埃夫斯港的工作节奏就减慢下来了,慢得如同爬行一样, 因为各个公司都到其他国家去寻求更便宜的维修服务了,或者那些公司选择光顾更现代化的造船厂。多年的劳资冲突也降低了该港口的吸引力。阿莱维佐普洛斯说,从2005年到2014年,他一年的工作时间总共才50天左右。“我的整个人生都改变了,我的人生观也改变了。我甚至考虑过自杀,”他说。“有时候我们只吃面包。如果有人问我们哪天吃什么,答案总是最便宜的。”


For years, the Greek government seemed content to run Piraeus largely as a commuter port for the ferryboats that take millions of locals and tourists to islands in the Aegean Sea. The shipyards and cargo port, meanwhile, deteriorated year by year. Laden with debt and bogged down by political schisms and bureaucracy, the government neglected the upgrades that could have retrofitted Piraeus to serve the rapidly growing large-container shipping industry. By 2010, yearly cargo traffic had fallen to 880,000 TEUs, or twenty-foot equivalent units, the standard measurement for container throughput—a paltry fraction of the capacity of Europe’s biggest ports.


In 2008, China made its move. Cosco, then known as the China Ocean Shipping Group, signed a concession with the Greek government to operate Piraeus’s container terminal for 35 years, in a deal worth about 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in rent and facility upgrades and another 2.7 billion euros in revenue sharing. The powerful dockworker unions, anxious at the prospect of foreign ownership, went on strike for six weeks. They hung a banner on Piraeus’s waterfront on the day the Chinese company took over that read “Cosco go home!” But with the global recession at its nadir, and few other options, the strikers soon returned to work. 

2008年,中国采取了行动。当时被称为中国远洋运输集团(China Ocean Shipping Group)的中远集团(Cosco)与希腊政府签署了一项特许协议,将比雷埃夫斯港的集装箱码头运营35年,协议涉及约12亿欧元(合14亿美元)的租金和设施升级,以及另外27亿欧元的收入分成。强大的码头工人工会对外资控股的前景感到焦虑,于是举行了为期六周的strike. 在比雷埃夫斯被中远集团收购的当天,他们在比雷埃夫斯的海滨悬挂了一面横幅,上面写着“中远滚开!”但是,由于全球经济衰退已经到了最低点,而且又没有什么其他的选择,致使strikers很快就恢复了工作。

Cosco quickly overhauled one of Piraeus’s piers and implemented a major upgrade of its loading cranes. That vastly expanded Piraeus’s capacity, turning the port almost overnight into an attractive destination for container vessels. Cosco also ran the port more efficiently. “Before, the employees were public servants,” says Vernicos, the shipowner. “They were working less than eight hours a day and fishing most of the time.” 

中远迅速检修了比雷埃夫斯港的一个码头,并对其装载起重机进行了重大升级。这极大地扩大了比雷埃夫斯港的运力,几乎在一夜之间就把这个港口变成了集装箱船只的一个有吸引力的目的港。中远集团还提高了港口的运营效率。船主Vernicos说: “以前,雇员都是公务员。” “他们每天工作不到8个小时,大部分时间都在钓鱼。”

Most important, Cosco now directs more of its own huge container-vessel traffic to Piraeus. As the ancient Greeks understood, Piraeus’s location makes it potentially invaluable. It is the closest major container terminal on the European mainland for ships emerging from the Suez Canal—and a gateway to a huge swath of southeastern Europe. “Before Cosco arrived, Chinese products had to go to Hamburg or Britain, and then they would go perhaps to the Balkans,” says Wu Hailong, owner of the Greece China Times, a newspaper catering to the 10,000 or so Chinese residents of Athens. “Now it saves about 10 days on the route.” 

更重要的是,中远现在将自己手里更多的集装箱船业务转向比雷埃夫斯港。正如古希腊人所理解的那样,比雷埃夫斯港的地理位置赋予了它潜在的价值。它是欧洲大陆上距离苏伊士运河最近的主要集装箱码头,也是通往欧洲东南部大片地区的门户。“在中远抵达之前,中国产品必须运往汉堡或英国,然后可能运往巴尔干半岛,”吴海龙表示。他是 Greece China Times的所有者。“现在这个港口节省了大约10天的时间。”

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Even as Piraeus got healthier, Greece labored under heavy austerity conditions imposed by its creditors. Its lenders demanded that the government make deep cuts to public spending—prompting hundreds of thousands of already-suffering Greeks to flood the streets in protest. Alexis Tsipras and Syriza won elections in 2015, campaigning on promises never to sell certain public assets. In the end, however, Greece had to do just that as a condition of a bailout by the EU and the IMF. Consider this: It sold its rail lines to Italy’s state-owned railway company for a tiny 43 million euros, less than some pro athletes earn in a year. Its natural-gas holdings were sold off to a private group; China State Grid, another state-owned company, bought a stake in Greece’s national utility. “Greece had choices, and it did not choose bankruptcy,” says Panagiotis Liargovas, an economist who headed the Greek Parliament’s budget office at the time. 

即使比雷埃夫斯港变得更加健康,希腊仍在债权人强加的严厉紧缩条件下艰难前行。它的债权人要求政府大幅削减公共开支——这促使成千上万已经饱受苦难的希腊人涌上街头提出反对。亚历克西斯•齐普拉斯(Alexis Tsipras)和Syriza赢得了2015年的大选,竞选时承诺永远不会出售某些公共资产。然而,最终希腊不得不这么做,作为欧盟和国际货币基金组织(IMF)纾困的条件。想想看:它把自己的铁路线以4300万欧元的价格卖给了意大利国有铁路公司,比一些职业运动员一年的收入还少。其天然气资产被出售给一家私人集团;中国国家电网,作为另一家国有企业,购买了希腊国家公用事业公司的股份。“希腊有选择,但它没有选择破产,”时任希腊议会预算办公室主任的经济学家帕纳约蒂斯•利亚尔戈瓦斯(Panagiotis Liargovas)表示。

In 2016, Greece agreed to sell 51% of Piraeus to Cosco, including 100% of its container terminal, for a bargain price of 368.5 million euros, plus 760 million euros in upgrades and revenue sharing. Piraeus became Chinese-owned, effectively in perpetuity. And in 2018, it processed 4.9 million TEUs, making it Europe’s sixth-largest cargo port. 


Alevizopoulos, the welder, says his life has drastically changed for the better since then. He says he made nearly 20,000 euros last year—about four times as much as his earnings before the government sold the port. Even so, Greece’s economic ordeal has left its mark. “Psychologically, we have not recovered,” he says. “Like the rest of the people, we are still afraid.”


In August 2018, Greece finally exited the eight-year austerity program imposed by its creditors. Although the economy returned to growth in 2017, Greece’s GDP had shrunk an astonishing 45% between 2008 and 2016—the largest depression ever to strike a country in peacetime. It will take years more for outside lenders to feel secure about financing projects in Greece, says Yannis Stournaras, governor of the Bank of Greece, “so we hope for equity investment.” Such an influx is needed not just to boost the economy but also to literally rejuvenate Greece, the governor explains. Thousands of educated young people fled during the crash, and those who stayed have been reluctant to start families. “Only by producing good jobs will young couples produce more children,” Stournaras says. 

2018年8月,希腊终于退出了债权人实施的8年紧缩计划。尽管经济在2017年恢复了增长,希腊的GDP在2008年至2016年之间却惊人地缩水了45%,这是该国在和平时期遭遇的最严重的经济萧条。希腊银行(Bank of Greece)行长亚尼斯•斯托纳拉斯(Yannis Stournaras)表示,外部贷款机构还需要数年时间才能对希腊的融资项目感到放心,“所以我们希望进行股权投资。他解释说,这样的资金流入不仅是为了提振经济,而且实际上还是为了重振希腊。成千上万个受过教育的年轻人在这次金融危机中逃离了,而那些留下来的人却一直不愿成家。斯图纳拉斯说:“只有创造出好的就业岗位,年轻夫妇才能生更多的孩子。”

Cosco says it is generating such jobs. While many Greeks worried that Chinese control would mean that imported workers would displace Athenians, only a handful of the port’s staff is Chinese, and those are managers, rarely seen amid the ships and stacks of containers. Cosco’s chairman, Xu Lirong, recently told Chinese media that the company has created 3,100 jobs for Greeks and added about $337 million a year to the Greek economy—a meaningful sum in a country with GDP of about $200 billion. The port’s revenues were about $151 million last year, up 19.2% from 2017, and Cosco says it is aiming to more than double the container volume Piraeus handles. 


Boosters see Chinese money also bolstering other sectors that suffered during the dark years. Vaggelis Kteniadis, president of V2, one of Greece’s biggest real estate development companies, says he has had only five Greek buyers for his properties in Athens’s upscale seaside suburbs during the past 10 years. Kteni­adis helped persuade Greece’s government to launch a “golden visa” program in 2013, offering foreigners resident status in exchange for investing 250,000 euros in Greek property. 

支持者们认为,中国的资金也在支撑着其他在萧条时期遭受过重创的行业。希腊最大的房地产开发公司之一V2的总裁瓦格吉利斯•克特尼阿迪斯(Vaggelis Kteniadis)表示,过去10年,他在雅典高档海滨郊区的房产只有5名希腊买家。Kteni-adis帮助说服希腊政府在2013年启动一项名为“黄金签证”的计划,为外国人提供希腊居民身份,换取他们投资25万欧元购买希腊房产。

Kteniadis estimates that Chinese buyers since then have snapped up more than 4,000 houses and apartments in Athens, about 450 from him alone, bought as second homes or short-term rental properties. Today, V2’s advertisements, in Chinese, are plastered across the baggage-claim area in Athens’s airport, offering home ownership as a rapid path to EU residency—an invaluable advantage for businesspeople. “The Chinese have saved Greek real estate,” says Kteniadis, who now has offices in four Chinese cities.


Chinese money could reshape the real estate of Piraeus itself. Guiding a reporter around the port one afternoon, Nektarios Demenopoulos, spokesman for the Piraeus Port Authority, points out a large abandoned wheat silo, which Cosco wants to convert into one of five high-end hotels; the company also envisions building a luxury shopping mall. The idea is to invest some 600 million euros to transform the sleepy town into a tourist hub, catering to cruise ships (some Chinese-owned) for which Piraeus is a stop. There is little to do in town currently, and passengers, if they disembark at all, make a beeline for the Acropolis 6.5 miles away. “The Chinese already have respect for ancient Greek culture,” Demenopoulos says. “But we still have a very small number of Chinese tourists compared to the thousands of Chinese millionaires.” 

中国资金可能重塑比雷埃夫斯的房地产市场。一天下午,比雷埃夫斯港务局(Piraeus port Authority)发言人内克塔里奥斯·德梅诺普洛斯(Nektarios Demenopoulos)带领一名记者参观了港口,他指出,这里有一个废弃的大麦仓,中远集团想把它改造成一家高端酒店,使之成为希腊五大高端酒店之一;该公司还计划建造一座豪华购物中心。这个想法是投资6亿欧元,将这个沉睡的小镇改造成一个旅游中心,为比雷埃夫斯停靠的游轮(为一些中国人所拥有)提供服务。现在城镇里没有什么事情可做,乘客们如果下了飞机,就可以直接向6.5英里外的卫城进发。“中国人已经很尊重古希腊文化了,”Demenopoulos说。“但与成千上万的中国百万富翁相比,中国游客的数量仍然非常少。”

In 2017, not long after Cosco bought Piraeus, the European Union drew up a resolution to present to the United Nations condemning China’s crackdown on human-rights activists. The EU had presented such statements on multiple previous occasions. But this time, Greece blocked the resolution, and a Greek foreign ministry spokesman called it “unconstructive criticism of China.” That incident exposed a deepening divide among EU countries over how to deal with China—and stoked the fears of China hawks that countries would be willing to sacrifice principles for monetary gain. 


This year, the stakes rose dramatically. In March, when President Xi landed in Rome for a state visit, Italy’s presidential guards lined up on horseback to greet him, as they do for the Pope. Later, tenor Andrea Bocelli serenaded Xi at a formal dinner. Italian companies signed deals with China worth $2.8 billion, and Italy agreed, in principle, to join the BRI, becoming the first member of the G7 group of major Western economies to sign on. Here, as in Piraeus, China’s maritime ambitions play a role: Italy is courting Chinese investment in four of its ports, including Trieste, a city whose direct-rail connections to Belgium and Germany represent some of Europe’s most valuable trade routes.


It was Xi’s splashy Italy visit that jolted EU officials into issuing their warning about China as a “systemic rival.” The EU plans to more rigorously monitor investments by state-owned companies like Cosco. It has begun rolling out guidelines to prevent countries from ceding control of strategic infrastructure or sensitive technology—an attempt to mirror the U.S. Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, which examines deals involving American companies. Closer examination of security threats and unfair competition “could severely affect China’s investment footprint in Europe,” concludes a recent report by the Rhodium Group and the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. Indeed, data on Chinese investment in Europe shows that its pace is already slowing.

正是习主席对意大利的高调访问,才让欧盟官员对中国发出了警告,称其是“系统性竞争对手”。欧盟计划更严格地监督中远等国有企业的投资。它已经开始推出指导方针,防止国家放弃对战略性基础设施或敏感技术的控制权,试图效仿美国财政部海外投资委员会(Committee on Foreign Investment)的做法,该委员会负责审查涉及美国公司的交易。荣鼎咨询(Rhodium Group)和柏林墨卡托中国研究所(Mercator Institute for China Studies)最近的一份报告得出结论称,对安全威胁和不公平竞争的更密切调查“可能严重影响中国在欧洲的投资足迹”。事实上,有关中国在欧投资的数据显示,中国在欧投资的步伐已经在放缓。


Within Greece itself, divisions over foreign investment—including in Piraeus—run deep. Some critics have long griped that the government sold too low, even though Cosco was the highest bidder in an open process. Local officials have, for now, blocked Cosco’s hotel and mall plans, on the grounds that they would disturb archaeological sites.


Some business leaders want the state to prevent Cosco from replacing Greek know-how with Chinese infrastructure. Piraeus’s cranes, for example, are supplied by ZPMC, a subsidiary of yet another Chinese state-owned entity. “Even the screws come from China,” says Thodoris Dritsas, a former Greek shipping minister. “There are Greek companies that could do this.” The dockworkers suspect Cosco has designs to replace their union members with freelance labor acquired through recruitment agencies. 

一些商界领袖希望政府阻止中远用中国的基础设施取代希腊的技术。例如,比雷埃夫斯的起重机由另一家中国国有企业的子公司ZPMC供应。希腊前海运部长托多丽丝•德里萨斯(Thodoris Dritsas)表示,“连螺丝都是来自中国的,有些希腊公司也可以做出这些螺丝。” 码头工人怀疑,中远有意用通过招聘机构获得的自由职业者来取代工会成员。

At the national level, events are moving in Cosco’s favor. After campaigning against foreign takeovers, Tsipras’s Syriza Party was trounced in elections in early July. Voters wrung out from years of tax increases and belt-­tightening voted in the New Democracy Party. Its leader, new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is a 51-year-old, Harvard-educated former venture capitalist who promises to lure big investors. In a conference about the BRI in Athens weeks before the election, the vice president of New Democracy, Adonis Georgiadis, said the party “welcomes Chinese companies to invest and grow in Greece.”

从国家层面上说,事态正朝着有利于中远的方向发展。齐普拉斯所在的激进联盟(Syriza)在反对外资收购的运动之后,在7月初的选举中惨败。经过多年的增税和勒紧裤腰带生活的煎熬后,选民们最终还是将选票投给了新民主党(New Democracy Party)。该党领导人、新总理米佐塔基斯(Kyriakos Mitsotakis)现年51岁,曾是哈佛大学(harvard)毕业的风险投资家,他承诺要吸引大投资者前来投资。大选前几周,新民主党副主席阿多尼斯·乔治亚迪斯(Adonis Georgiadis)在雅典举行的一次有关“一带一路”的会议上表示,该党“欢迎中国企业到希腊投资兴业”。

On a walk through Piraeus, worries about China’s influence seem dwarfed by the towers of containers on the dockside—bulky symbols of the port’s prosperity. Giorgos Gogos, general secretary of the local Dockworkers Union, says the era of strikes and protests is over—for now. That harmony could end if Cosco threatens union workers’ incomes. Still, after a decade of recession and pain, Piraeus’s dockworkers sense the chance for growth—or, at least, stability. “We are tired of struggling all the time,” Gogos says. “We need a period of peace.” For now, that desire for peace seems to outweigh national pride. 

走在比雷埃夫斯的路上,人们对中国影响力的担忧,似乎与码头上的集装箱塔比,相形见绌。集装箱塔是港口繁荣的象征。当地码头工人工会秘书长乔治·戈戈斯表示,strikes 和protests的时代已经结束。如果中远威胁到工会工人的收入,这种和谐可能会结束。尽管如此,在经历了十年的经济衰退和痛苦之后,比雷埃夫斯的码头工人感觉到经济增长的机会,或者说至少是稳定下来的机会。Gogos说:“我们厌倦了一直挣扎的生活。”“我们需要一段和平时期。目前,对和平的渴望似乎超过了民族自豪感。

Additional reporting by Pavlos Kapantais


A version of this article appears in the August 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline "Boxed in at the Docks."


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