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Speech by Chinese Ambassador Zou Xiaoli at the Meeting with Mayors of Northern Greece

Distinguished mayors,

A hearty happy Chinese New Year to you all! I am very delighted to meet you once again. I want to avail myself of this opportunity to mainly talk about bilateral relations and local cooperation between our two countries.

In less than a year since we last met, great progress has been registered in bilateral relations: Prime Minister Tsipras paid a successful visit to China. Leaders of our two countries reached strategic consensus on promoting "Belt and Road" cooperation. COSCO Shipping has expanded overal investment and operation in the Port of Piraeus. Chinese energy companies have begun to participate in the upgrading and transformation of power grids and power stations of Greece. The plaque for the Chinese Cultural Center in Athens has been officially unveiled. The year 2017 has been declared as the year of China-Greece Cultural Exchanges and Cultural Industry Cooperation. China will be the honoured country of the 82nd Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). It is worth special mentioning that thanks to the joint efforts of Mr. Psinakis, Greek mayors and Chinese colleagues, the first "China-Hellenic Cities Forum" was successfully held in Athens in November last year, which created a mechanism for local cooperation between our two countries. The fact that so many important outcomes and breakthroughs have been achieved in such a short time shows that China-Greece relations have entered the best development period ever and demonstrate unprecedented prospects for future development.

The key message I want to deliver today is that 2017 is crucial for the development of bilateral relations. We must make the best use of every opportunity, enhance cooperation and exchanges and bring benefit to people of our two countries. This will exert important and far-reaching impact on bilateral relations and regional development.

Against this background, what role can Greek cities and mayors play? This is the key topic of today's seminar. I want to share with you some of my views and suggestions, which I hope can provide some food for thought.

First of all, we should always bear in mind the big picture of China-Greece cooperation to jointly make the cake of shared interests bigger. The COSCO Piraeus project is the biggest and most important project of bilateral cooperation. The development of the Piraeus Port will only enhance the competitiveness of the Thessaloniki Port, and vice versa. I hope that in the near future, the Hungary-Serbia Railway, in which  China is involved, will extend to Thessaloniki and enhance the latter's advantage as a link between South and North, and East and West, thus driving development of northern Greece as a whole. The attention, support and participation of each city and each mayor is valuable and will certainly benefit their respective cities and all the Greek people.

Second, I encourage you to reach out and establish contact with Chinese counterparts, as exemplified by the mayors of Marathon, Thessaloniki, Zakinthos, Milos, Sparta, Lefkada, and Elefsina. They have not only promoted their cities, but more importantly, deepened Chinese people's understanding and fondness of the Greek people. Many Chinese cities that hold Marathon events are interested to invite Mr. Psinakis to visit their cities. This is an honour that belongs to Marathon but more importantly Greece. Last year, Zhoushan, a well-known coastal Chinese city, held an International Island Tourism Festival, for which Greece was the country of honour. Mayors of Milos, Zakinthos, and Lefkada attended the event, which greatly boosted the national image of Greece in China. When you come closer, you will find China is neither far-away nor mysterious. People there are as warm-hearted and friendly as the Greek people and hold great respect and longing for the Greek culture.

Third, Greek cities should give full play to their traditional advantages and actively attract Chinese capital and technology. Northern Greece boasts many food-, silk-, and fur-processing businesses, as well as rich mineral and tourism resources. I hope that business people of the two countries can join hands to revitalize these traditional industries, and jointly explore third-party markets. You, as mayors, can create a sound political and social atmosphere and render necessary support for bilateral cooperation. Zhejiang, my hometown, has world-famous production and distribution centers for silk, leather and other small commodities. Over 30 years ago, most of the businesses there were township factories or small shops. Now their products can be found all of China and all of the world. My Embassy and me stand ready to serve as match-makers for bilateral exchanges and cooperation and encourage more Chinese businesses to be participating in this year's TIF.

Last but not least, all of you are warmly welcome to participate in the Second Chinese-Hellenic Cities Forum to be held in China this year. As President of the co-host, "Amphictyony of Ancient Greek cities", Mr. Psinakis will give you a more detailed briefing. What I want to stress is that the forum is by far the most convenient bridge and strongest bond linking local governments of the two sides. The first forum was very successful and accumulated rich experience. It has gained recognition in some Chinese provinces and cities. The Chinese side will work closely with the Greek side to make this year's forum a bigger success and strive for more concrete results. I would also like to share with you a piece of good news. Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared that the "Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation" will be held in Beijing in May. This will be an important platform of international cooperation for consultation and joint development of "Belt and Road" and for sharing outcomes of mutually-beneficial cooperation. China expects Greece, a strategic partner for the building up of the 21st Century New Silk Road, to play a significant role for making the summit a full success. In order to achieve this goal, I think the efforts and contribution of the China-Hellenic Cities Forum, the "Amphictyony of Ancient Greek cities" and you, mayors of Greece, are undoubtedly indispensable and highly respected.

Thank you all!

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