Greek deputy PM to visit China amid financial crisis

BEIJING (AFP) - Greek deputy prime minister Ioannis Dragasakis will visit China this week, Beijing's foreign ministry announced Monday, as concerns over the cash-strapped country's financial crisis intensify.

Mr Dragasakis will visit China from Wednesday to Saturday at the invitation of Chinese Vice-Premier Ma Kai, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. Mr Hong provided no further details.

China has developed close economic ties with Greece. Chinese shipping giant Cosco has a 35-year concession managing the two main container terminals at the port of Piraeus, one of the busiest harbours in the Mediterranean.

Cosco was also a bidder in a process to privatise the Piraeus port authority that was recently halted by the new government.

Visiting Piraeus in June last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the port could become "a Chinese gateway to Europe".

Leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited a Chinese warship that was docked at the port last month.

Greece's long-running crisis and its standoff with Germany over how to resolve it have dominated financial headlines in Europe this year since the election of Tsipras in January, amid fears of potential contagion if the country exits the eurozone.

Mr Tsipras was due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin later Monday to discuss Athens' debt woes and economic reforms necessary to unlock fresh bailout cash. Greece's creditors agreed in February to extend its US$240-billion euro (S$330 billion) bailout by four months in exchange for promises of further reforms.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz told German radio last week that the situation in Greece was "dangerous" and "time is short".

As EU diplomacy over Greece's financial crisis picks up pace, Mr Tsipras last week unveiled a surprise trip to Russia set for early April for talks with President Vladimir Putin, even though he was already scheduled to visit the country in May for its annual Victory Day parade.

A number of Greek officials have openly broached the prospect of Athens turning to Russia or China for financial assistance if loan talks with the EU end in failure.