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China-Greece Relation in an Unabated Momentum

An aerial photo of the COSCO Shipping Pisces approaches Piraeus port, Greece, on Feb. 15, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]
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The Online Investment Forum on 4th June, 2020 was another occasion when Greek government’s determination for an unfaltering commitment to cooperation with China was made building on their successful cooperation in Piraeus port. This was made clear by the address of the Greek Development and Investment Minister, Adonis Georgriadis when he said that “We are very happy with the Chinese presence in Greece, very proud of our cooperation in Piraeus port. We want to go forward with the master plan of the upgrade of Greece’s largest harbour.” He further added that “We continue even faster and stronger than before to make our ties stronger.” The Minister remarked that the pandemic and their common response have strengthened their cooperation further. The Chinese ambassador to Greece, Zhang Qiyue complemented the tune of cooperation that Greece is the important BRI partner and both sides have a strong desire to strengthen the cooperation for the mutual benefits of people of the two countries.

The pandemic diplomacy is deepening the threads of cooperation. Huge loads of medical supplies around 18 tons arrived Athens on 21st March. “Greece is in constant contact with China, cooperating closely to address the common challenge of the new coronavirus pandemic” said the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis. He further added that Greece will continue with this strategic partnership in the future as well.

The policy of “Golden Visa” is a unique step of the Greek government to encourage investment in the country. The programme was launched in July, 2013 which grants a five year residency visa in return for an investment in real estate. It does not require minimum stay and children upto 21 years are included in the family applications. The visa can be renewed every five years without any minimum stay condition and citizenship can be granted after seven years of residency only. The Chinese investors have used the policy in a large scale. As per the statistics of the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, some 86 percent of Golden Visas issued in the year 2019 was availed by the Chinese up from around 40 percent two years ago. The related new additional changes like 22 percent reduction in property tax and a 50 percent reduction on renovation tax and a new flat tax by cutting the global tax as they have become local tax resident have made more attractive. Thus the visa policy has created a convenient condition to get ‘citizenship by investment’ by extension EU residency and citizenship as well. There is considerable rise among the Chinese investors in Greece and expect a prosperous decade of 2020s.

With the economic problems, Greece is in serious consideration to remain in the European Union as the poorest country using the Euro and highest unemployment rate of the bloc. However, its EU membership works as an incentive to the Chinese to gain the European Residency by getting the Greece Residency. Gradually, the issue has attracted the concerns of the EU authorities about security risk involved in the programme. The issue was raised by the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders in his address to the European Parliament and warned against the risky investors availing the residency or citizenship.

For centuries, port Piraeus has played pivotal role in economic prosperity of Greece. With the Chinese control of the port after 2016 (51 percent stake and can be raised upto 67 percent) the port has soon become the second-biggest container port in the Mediterranean and the biggest passenger port of Europe. The China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) investment is considered as a winning option among the Greeks as it has retained the previous employees and thus it has managed to boost the employment. For the Chinese, Piraeus represents the Mediterranean hub of its global geo-economic strategy based of its Belt and Road Initiative. However, it faces the opposition and scrutiny of the United States and its allies in Europe who perceive it as an extremely worrisome Chinese foothold and its subsequent expanding influence tentacles in the West.

The responses in Greece are also not unanimous. There are numerous forms of opposition and voices of scepticism to criticism regarding increasing Chinese relation with Greece and their implications. In Aril 2019, a powerful obstacle to the Chinese expansion plan in Piraeus to add warehouses, expensive cruise-ship terminal and luxury hotels came from the Central Archaeological Council and Museum when it declared the area an archaeological site. The additional investment of around $880 million was therefore stalled. Thus the amount remained frozen under the Left wing Sryiza (Synaspismos Rizospastikis Aristeras/ Coalition of Radical Left) government. Along with the Central and Eastern European countries, Greece has become the part of 17+1 (the 1 represents China) which has rung the alarm bell both in Washington and the EU headquarter, Brussels. Greece remains part of EU and has received huge sum of European bailout money. Some media reports suggest therefore that the announcement of archaeological body is purely political, an action to satisfy the concerns of the US and EU. The concern appears to be obvious with the remark of Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for Budget and Administration that Europe has to be careful of Chinese “Trojan horses” which Beijing has been creating by its economic clout through its investments to have political sway over European countries. Back in 2017, the European Union failed to pass a statement condemning the persecution of dissidents by the Chinese government as Greece blocked that resolution.

The coming of the New Democracy party under the Prime Ministership of Kriakos Mitsotakis has turned Greece once again favourable to China. To highlight the convergence of interests in maritime trade, at the China International Import Expo in Sanghai, the Greek Prime Minister, Mitsotakis said on 5th November, 2019 that “We are a nation of seafarers” and therefore our cooperation seem to be natural. He further added that the relationship is mutually beneficial and reinforcing. To address the concerns of the EU and US very tactfully he highlighted that “If Chinese are doing this, then the American can also do it, the French, the Germans, the Swiss, the Italians can do it.”

The central concern of the EU is that its members should not be sucked into a superpower geopolitical rivalry of the US and China. The dominant argument emphasises the need of having their own collective and independent policy and position towards China. But this understanding has failed to develop necessary agreement of members so far. The EU foreign policy Chief, Josep Borrel called the current state of China policy of the EU as ‘Sinatra Doctrine’. Way back in 1989,then Soviet foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Gennadi I. Gerasimov called the Soviet policy towards Warsaw Pact nations as ‘Sinatra Doctrine’-they can do things their way. The origin of this euphemism goes back to the song written for Sinatra by Paul Anka, “I did it my way” a big American pop hit in early 1969. Given the political trend in Greece and its economic exigencies the Chinese are there to stay and grow for sure. The EU lacks the necessary political cohesion and economic strength which seems to have further been accentuated with the ambivalence in US commitments and NATO squabbles. However, a sincere analysis makes it apparent that the concern in Europe lingers on given the asymmetry between China and Greece.

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Europe

Hungary’s Victor Orban uses soccer to project Greater Hungary and racial exclusivism

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Image source: veja.abril.com.br

Hungary didn’t qualify for the Qatar World Cup, but that hasn’t stopped Prime Minister Victor Orban from exploiting the world’s current focus on soccer to signal his Putinesque definition of central European borders as defined by civilization and ethnicity rather than internationally recognized frontiers.

Mr. Orban drew the ire of Ukraine and Romania for wearing to a local Hungarian soccer match a scarf depicting historical Hungary, which also includes chunks of Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia.

It was the second time in a matter of months that Mr. Orban spelt out his irredentist concept of geography that makes him a member of a club of expansionist leaders that includes Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu, and members of the Indian power elite, who define their countries’ borders in civilisational rather than national terms.

Speaking in July to university summer camp students in Romania, which is home to 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians, Mr. Orban insisted that “Hungary has…national…and even European ambitions. This is why…the motherland must stand together, and Transylvania and the other areas in the Carpathian Basin inhabited by Hungarians must stand together.”

Responding to Ukrainian and Romanian objections to his scarf, Mr. Orban insisted that “soccer is not politics. Do not read things into it that are not there. The Hungarian national team belongs to all Hungarians, wherever they live!”

Hungary has accused Ukraine of restricting the right of an estimated 150,000 ethnic Hungarians to use Hungarian in education because of a 2017 law that curbs the usage of minority languages in schools.

Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger presented Mr. Orban with a new scarf at a recent summit of Central European leaders in a twist of satire. “I noticed that Viktor Orban has an old scarf, so I gave him a new one today,” Mr. Heger said on Facebook.

Mr. Orban’s territorial ambitions may pose a lesser threat than his supremacist and racist attitudes.

Those attitudes constitute building blocks of a cvilisationalist world that he shares with Christian nationalists and Republicans in the United States, as well as a new Israeli coalition government that Mr. Netanyahu is forming. Mr. Putin has used similar arguments to justify his invasion of Ukraine.

In contrast to Mr. Putin and potentially Mr. Netanyahu, depending on how the Biden administration responds to his likely coalition, Mr. Orban is on a far tighter leash regarding territorial ambition as a member of NATO and the European Union.

As a result, far more insidious is what amounts to a mainstreaming of racism and supremacism by men like Mr. Orban, Mr. Netanyahu, and former US President Donald Trump, who consistently mainstream norms of decency and propriety by violating them with impunity.

Speaking a language shared by American Christian nationalists and Mr. Netanyahu’s potential coalition partners, Mr. Orban rejected in his July speech a “mixed-race world” defined as a world “in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe.”

The prime minister asserted that mixed-race countries “are no longer nations: They are nothing more than conglomerations of peoples” and are no longer part of what Mr. Orban sees as “the Western world.” The prime minister stopped short of identifying those countries, but the United States and Western European nations would fit the bill.

In a similar vein, Mr. Trump recently refused to apologise for having dinner with Ye, a rapper previously known as Kanye West, who threatened he would go “death on con 3 on Jewish people,” and Nick Fuentes, a 24-year old pro-Russian trafficker in Holocaust denial and white supremacism.

Mr. Trump hosted the two men at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, just after launching his 2024 presidential election campaign. Mr. Ye “was really nice to me,” Mr. Trump said.

Candidates backed by Mr. Trump in last month’s US midterm elections, including Hershel Walker, who is competing in next week’s runoff in Georgia, have similarly felt comfortable associating themselves with Messrs. Ye and Fuentes.

Mr. Fuentes asserted days before the dinner that “Jews have too much power in our society. Christians should have all the power, everyone else very little,” while Mr. Ye’s manager, Milo Yannopoulos, announced that “we’re done putting Jewish interests first.”

Mr. Yonnopoulos added that “it’s time we put Jesus Christ first again in this country. Nothing and no one is going to get in our way to make that happen.”

Featured on notorious far-right radio talk show host Alex Jones’ Infowars, Mr. Ye professed his admiration of Adolf Hitler. “I like Hitler,” Mr. Ye said, listing the various reasons he admired the notorious Nazi leader.

Mr. Netanyahu’s likely coalition partners seek to legislate discriminatory distinctions between adherents of different Jewish religious trends, hollow out Israeli democracy, introduce an apartheid-like system, disband the Palestinian Authority, expel Palestinians “disloyal to Israel” in what would amount to ethnic cleansing, deprive women of their rights, and re-introduce homophobia.

Avraham Burg, an Israeli author, politician, businessman, and scion of a powerful leader of a defunct once mainstream religious political party, warned in 2018 that Messrs. Orban, Trump, and Netanyahu “are the leaders of paranoia and phobia.”

Mr. Burg cautioned that they represent “a global phenomenon that crosses all boundaries, ethnic, racial, or religious, gathering into a tribal ghetto that is smaller than the modern state, which is diverse and inclusive of all its citizens. Their fierce antagonism to the foundations of democracy and the attempt to do detriment to as many accomplishments and benefits of the open society as possible are evidence of inherent weaknesses and real existential fears.”

Mr. Burg’s dire vision is even more a reality today than when he spoke out four years ago.

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Strong will to enhance bilateral relations between Serbia and Pakistan

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Although the Republic of Serbia and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are two sovereigns, independent states, with different cultures, religions, languages, histories, and ethnicities. One is located in Europe and the other in Asia. Yet, there exist so many similarities and commonalities, which provide a strong basis and convergence of interests.

Both, Serbia and Pakistan, are developing countries and struggling to improve their national economies and the standard of life of respective nations. Both nations were victims of the Western world and sanctions. Ugly media has been projecting a distorted image of both countries. Hindrances created by Superpowers in the path of development are a common phenomenon in both cases.

People in both countries are hardworking, strong, resilient, and capable of surviving in harsh circumstances. Both have demonstrated in the past that they can resist pressures from any superpower. Both have learned the lessons from past bitter experiences and are determined not to repeat the same in the future.

In my recent visit to the Republic of Serbia, I noticed that there exists a fair awareness in Serbian regarding Pakistan. I came into a cross with the general public and common people and they know a lot about Pakistan. They have shown strong feelings for Pakistan. There exists immense goodwill for Pakistan among Serbian youth.

Both countries are in the process of industrialization and promoting trade. Currently, both countries are earning from the export of workforce and human resources. Serbian youth are working in Western Europe and sending back foreign exchange. And Pakistan workforce finds a convenient destination in the Middle East for earning more and sending back foreign exchange to Pakistan. But, both nations have the potential to earn through export and foreign trade.

Serbia is known as the gateway to Europe and Pakistan is the gateway to Oil-rich Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and Eurasia. Both countries can utilize each other for re-export too.

Both countries are far away from each other but, a strong bond of friendship and mutual understanding is admirable. Based on the convergence of interests, we can cooperate with each other. Especially can help each other in their areas of weaknesses and benefit from each other’s strengths.

Serbia has vast cultivatable land and is rich in water resources, very niche in the agriculture sector. Whereas its population is limited to only 7 million approximately. While Pakistan is 250 million population and a strong workforce in the agriculture sector. Both nations can positively collaborate and cooperate in the Agriculture sector.

The Republic of Serbia is in the process of Industrialization, especially in the automotive sector, whereas, Pakistan has a strong base for industrialization and is rich in the technical and skilled workforce. Pakistan has established a rich supply chain for industrialization and Serbia can benefit from Pakistan’s strength.

Science, Technology, Research, Innovation, and Higher Education is the important area where both can benefit from collaboration and cooperation. Pakistan has world-ranked Universities, recognized globally with English as a medium of study, and can meet the demand of Serbian youth. Whereas Serbia has the edge in the IT sector, Pakistani youth can be beneficiaries of Serbian facilities.

However, to achieve the real benefits from each other’s strengths, there is a need to do a lot of homework. There is a dire need to promote people-to-people contact and mutual visit at all levels. Scholars, intellectuals, academia, and media can play a vital role in bringing both nations closer.

Governments in both countries may take appropriate policy measures to strengthen the relations like relaxing visa regimes, removing tax barriers, and introducing attractive policies to each other’s nationals in various fields of life.

To promote trade, Free Trade Agreement (FTA) can be signed among them and formulate a trade policy benefitting each other. Similarly, investment mechanisms need to be devised to attract investment from each other country.

Media has a long-lasting impact and collaboration between two nations in Media will greatly help to build a positive narrative of both countries and simultaneously need to counter negativism in the ugly media in some countries over-engaged in distorting our image.

There is a strong will to enhance our bilateral relationship between the two nations, and whenever there is a will, there is a way. I am optimistic that bilateral relations will grow exponentially in the days to come.

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The Economist: “Europe looks like… a sucker”

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© European Union 2019 – EP

Don’t be fooled by the rush of good news from Europe in the past few weeks. A brutal economic squeeze will pose a test of Europe’s resilience in 2023 and beyond, – predicts “The Economist”.

There is a growing fear that the recasting of the global energy system, American economic populism and geopolitical rifts threaten the long-run competitiveness of the European Union and non-members, including Britain.

Energy prices are down from the summer and a run of good weather means that gas storage is nearly full. But the energy crisis still poses dangers.

Gas prices are six times higher than their long-run average. On November 22nd Russia threatened to throttle the last operational pipeline to Europe. Europe’s gas storage will need to be refilled once again in 2023, this time without any piped Russian gas whatsoever.

The war is also creating financial vulnerabilities. Energy inflation is spilling over into the rest of Europe’s economy, creating an acute dilemma for the European Central Bank. It needs to raise interest rates to control prices. But if it goes too far it could destabilize the Eurozone’s weaker members, not least indebted Italy.

Too many of Europe’s industrial firms, especially German ones, have relied on abundant energy inputs from Russia. The prospect of severed relations with Russia, structurally higher costs and a decoupling of the West and China has meant a reckoning in many boardrooms.

That fear has been amplified by America’s economic nationalism which threatens to draw activity across the Atlantic in a whirlwind of subsidies and protectionism. President Joe Biden’s ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ involves $400 bn of handouts for energy, manufacturing and transport and includes make-in-America provisions.

In many ways the scheme resembles the industrial policies that China has pursued for decades. As the other two pillars of the world economy become more interventionist and protectionist, Europe, with its quaint insistence on upholding World Trade Organization rules on free trade, looks like a sucker.

Many bosses warn that the combination of expensive energy and American subsidies leaves Europe at risk of mass deindustrialization.

Compared with its pre-COVID GDP trajectory, Europe has done worse than any other economic bloc. Of the world’s 100 most valuable firms, only 14 are European.

America’s financial and military support for Ukraine vastly exceeds Europe’s, and America resents the EU’s failure to pay for its own security.

America is irritated by Europe’s economic torpor and its failure to defend itself; Europe is outraged by America’s economic populism.

…High-level relationship – where will it all lead to?

International Affairs

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