China has acted as an ATM for Greece, dispensing money whenever Athens was strapped for cash. But Beijing is slowly losing its desire to work with the Tsipras government, writes DW columnist Frank Sieren.
The visitor was important but actually, he had to take a back seat to the current situation in the EU. This week, of all weeks, when Greek-EU relations hit their lowest point, Li Keqiang, Premier of the People's Republic of China, visited Brussels [Pictured above flanked by EU Commission President Juncker (l.) and EU Council President Tusk].
The timing was inconvenient for his trip to the EU-China Summit on Monday. It was also the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the European Union and China.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was pleased about China's promise to support the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).
But on Monday, Brussels actually had no time for Li, whose opening speech at the EU-China summit had to be postponed because of the risk of Greek bankruptcy.
Headlines about Greece overshadowed the news of China signing billion-euro investment programs in Belgium and at Airbus, the European aerospace and defense corporation. Instead of pictures of Li on tour in Europe, people around the world were viewing images of Greeks standing in line in front of ATMs.
Beijing's clear stance
At the press conference with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Juncker, Li adopted an unusually clear stance on current events and pointed out where China's interests lie.
"As an investor, China wants to see a united, prosperous Europe and a strong euro," he said.
Under favorable conditions, Chinese investments could reach their fullest potential. Hence, Beijing thinks Brussels should keep sending Greece money, just as the Chinese government does with its underdeveloped provinces in the western part of the country – or even unevolved regions throughout the world, which also encompass Greece.
For a long while, it looked like China's relations with Greece were running according to plan. In spring of this year, Greek Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias accompanied by a delegation visited Beijing.
They were seeking Chinese investments to help fill Greece's state coffers. Once again, they opened up the opportunity to sell the port of Piraeus after Tsipras' government had initially stopped the privatization of the port earlier this year. The Chinese state ship owner, Cosco, has owned 70 percent of the cargo port since 2008. The state-owned enterprise from China now wants to purchase even more shares. Since Greece urgently needs money, there are probably no more obstacles.
China wants a strong Europe
Chinese plans would be undermined if Greece uncontrollably plunges into bankruptcy. Via Greece, Beijing wants to conquer the European market as a major buyer of products from China. In the 40th year of EU-China relations, a billion euros worth of goods are traded on a daily basis and the EU imports much more than it exports to China.
A weak Europe would not only mean that the demand for goods from China will wane, but also that China's geopolitical interest in a strong Europe as a counterweight to the USA will remain unfulfilled. Premier Li thus struck a conciliatory tone by saying, "Europe can count on China to help tackle the international financial crisis and the Greek debt crisis."
Provided, however, that the Greek government does not always put everything on the line. When asked whether Li would also support Greece, his response lacked clarity.
DW correspondent Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.