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Sino-Greek cooperation and the systemic threat to the Euro-Atlantic Alliance

International Affairs Analyst

Credit: Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών, Wikimedia Commons


With Russian influence in Greece weakening, the Chinese hold strengthens . The 2019 Sino-Italian “Silk Road Memorandum”, undoubtedly brought about due to the formation of the Euro-Atlantic sceptic Italian government in 2018, proved China’s ability to achieve potentially transformative political understandings with geopolitical implications to NATO and the EU, given the Belt Road Initiative’s five pillars of “policy coordination, infrastructure development, investment and trade facilitation, financial integration, and cultural and social exchange”.

According to the 2023 Tran Committee “Chinese Investments in European Maritime Infrastructure '' published by the EU parliament, increasing Chinese presence in European ports and various infrastructures represents a regional security threat. The Belt Road Initiative, which contains the 21st Maritime Silk Road, targets, specifically, the East Med and, unlike the EU and ad hoc US agreements, implies agreements with no comprehensive texts or provisions, thus appealing to actors opting for informal, or all political, understandings.

As is the case with the all-Chinese 17+1 umbrella, which targets Southeast European countries, China identifies indebted, industrially underdeveloped, and chaotic political environments suitable to its State policy of remunerative business with lesser partners. This approach can be utilised to potentially undermine and breakthrough EU-NATO territory. China aims to acquire expertise and dual-use breakthrough know-how in the long-term, drawing inspiration from the philosophical, and existential “Art of War”, by Sun Tzu. In this context, striving for Euro-Atlantic unity, integration, multilevel cooperation, and long-term decoupling is fundamental in order to face the Chinese systemic threat.


The impressive port facilities acquisition in EU-NATO territory shows how China aims to position itself as a maritime power, influencing sector practices, becoming the first supply chain arbiter, and thus potentially breaching into Western security and technological edge as the 2017 Chinese National Intelligence, Art 7, legally compels businesses and citizens in host countries to “support” national intelligence, complete with personal remuneration.

The case of the Piraeus port, close to the Suez Canal, to name but one critical juncture in the by-land and rail access to key markets, is a case in point. In 2014, the Chinese PM said that “We hope that, working together with Greece, we will make the port of Piraeus, one of the most competitive in the world and that it will participate in the construction and maintenance of the railway network from the port to mainland Europe in order to reduce the transfer time by a further one to two days''. The apex of the Chinese win strategy, through State-owned COSCO, came when Euro-Atlantic sceptic Tsipras opted for agreed privatisation during the critical 2016 bail-out period, the 2008 Greek crisis being an opportunity for Chinese firms to tap into the Greek market. The Mitsotakis Government hailed the Chinese firm’s role as a chance for “a bolder master plan which includes more investments for the expansion of sea cruise piers, new infrastructure and construction of hotels”. The interest in expanding the scope in the hope of “room for improvement”, as stated by the Secretary-General for Maritime Affairs and Ports, shows how far Chinese infiltration and appeal progressed among local stakeholders and politicians.

COSCO’s shareholder investment is estimated at 67%. This figure should also be seen within the broader regional picture, as represented by the 65% stake from Turkey’s Kumport, a true transport asset for Chinese goods in the European market and a potential hybrid threat within and from NATO territory. In terms of risk assessment, and given cogent studies on Chinese dual-use technology and facilities, the upgrading of Piraeus port could be a viaticum for military and non-military interference-infiltration by the acquisition of critical infrastructures and shareholder power that should alert EU-NATO allies as to the need to thwart it. Chinese-friendly privatising, through the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, and investments continue unabated.

The Greek Minister of Culture praised the cultural cooperation within the Belt Road Initiative as “an important drive for the economic and social development of our two countries”. This multilevel cooperation includes the energy sector, such as China State Corporation (24 shareholding in ADMIE), IA intelligence cooperation, such as the one between DeepBlue Technology and the University of Thessaloniki in 2019, and so on. As the New York Times unveiled in September 2023, the Chinese Huawei lobby included bribery of high-ranking officials in order to secure an asset to the detriment of American technology, thus contributing to the threat to the National Network System in terms of espionage and asymmetric disruption.

The risks at the national level, ranging from coercive economic influence to pervasive economic dependence, are monitored by the Allies as they might threaten the cybersecurity of infrastructures through malicious activities undertaken by Chinese companies, along with undue access to NATO technology. Close proximity to military infrastructures and the vented possibility for dual-use contained in many Chinese legislations and briefings, in the spirit of the broad military doctrine of strategic strongpoint concept, as evinced by the 2022 Jim Garamone’s study for the US Department of Defence and, indeed, as suggested by President Xi Jinping’s “information warfare”, should not be underestimated. The firm knowledge of internal goods processes by ad hoc intelligence, also of military contingency to the allies, pose a systemic military threat within and from NATO territory itself, as evidenced by the 2020 WTO dispute case launched by the EU against China. Thus, the 2017 Chinese Naval Task Group 150, saluted by the Greek officials, should raise Western eyebrows, as the above mentioned concept and the importance of Piraeus to Chinese geostrategic designs and the very possibility of conducting spying, penetrative and disruptive operations.

The geopolitical implications of Chinese untrustworthiness can be inferred when, for instance, considering the 2023 seizure of two containers carrying dual-use titanium and lathe by the Greek authorities, briefed by unnamed foreign intelligence agencies, and bound for Iran, with the active support of the consignee company in Istanbul. Piraeus and Kumport represent Chinese assets in the East Med, thus suggesting the Chinese State’s profit from increased sole control in the company shareholder system, the multilevel leverage in the host country, and the systemic threat erga omnes.

From a strategic point of view, NATO’s and EU’s goal should be not to increase the already alarming 53% of the Chinese total maritime transport sector, as shown by the WTO and the 2023 EU Blue Economy Observatory. The long-term goal should be decoupling while striving for the-risking as the necessary step.

Moreover, such experts as Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission beautifully opined that China, in the event of a US-China conflict or simply heightened tension, could even shut the ports down, thus compromising or diverting inbound-outbound vital supplies to the benefit of other competitors in the International arena as previewed by the 2015 Chinese Technical Standards for New Civilian Ships implementing its National Defence Requirements. The immediate repercussions over weaker NATO-EU countries and potential allies should not be overlooked, given the geopolitical race and threats.

In the Greek case specifically, the hold is mainly entrepreneurial to the detriment of the EU’s need to fashion a comprehensive defensive policy towards China , as seen in the case of the Greek Veto Power regarding the EU’s position on Chinese human rights violations in 2016 at the United Nations or the 2023 leaked email by Deputy FM Papadopoulou urgently demanding Greek officials not to attend Taiwan events, a posture shared in many EU capitals.


NATO and EU countries need to get out of the middle ground position due to evident divergences in approach to China, where the doves are mainly located in South Eastern Europe, to sensibilize more about Chinese philosophy and deal, regionally speaking, with the increasingly tight Sino-Turkish technological and economic cooperation, a direct, systemic regional threat. The 2023 Vilnius Summit Communique appears to view the extent of the Chinese disruptive strategy by conventional and non-conventional means as almost secondary to Russia’s despite the abundant open sources in terms of broad Chinese military and maritime concepts and the available close examination of the many ramifications of the Belt Road Initiative. This is all the more problematic when it comes to the East Mediterranean, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. This approach is conceptually and practically shortsighted given how the Russo-Chinese axis became an organic and imminent regional threat to weak links of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance and potential new members, such as Moldova, war-torn Ukraine, and China-friendly Georgia where China will try to tip the balance in favour of reliance on its technology and infrastructures. EU-NATO cooperation with India, Australia and Japan is an asset in the global strategy to the Chinese long-term one of monopoly, expansion, and preeminence. Regionally speaking, Washington and Brussels should pressurise South-Eastern and Central European Countries to exit the Chinese 17+1 project as incompatible with the Euro-Atlantic family, its geopolitical interests and a systemic threat to their precarious national security systems.

Unlike the Western Balkan States, where Euro-Atlantic integration is lagging behind, further Euro-Atlantic integration-cooperation within its territory is the only deterrence to possible Chinese exploitation of port outposts and infrastructures for unseemly strategic operations and espionage. Deeper EU-NATO cooperation is the clout the authoritarian Chinese state with its mere memoranda method lacks, despite being implied in the Belt Road Initiative’s five pillars. The NATO strategic concept should develop the question of China’s long-term encompassing strategy and specify the 2050 goal of reaching a US-like military status.

NATO should also open more military bases in Greece and strengthen Alexandroupoli’s scope and range to monitor Chinese activities, upgrading it for geopolitical purposes and enhance deterrence, also given China-enthusiast Turkey’s unpredictability and increasing tension with NATO, the EU, and Greece itself and its anti-Western belligerent strategy in the South Caucasus and East Med. A suggested privatisation of facilities to counter Chinese presence, such as in Igoumenitsa, Heraklion, Kavalas, and Volos, should be considered.

NATO-EU partners should increase investments and economic assistance in order to outsmart the Chinese investment sector. The 2021 Thessaloniki Science and Technology Agreement between the US and Greece shows how fundamental it is for Western partners to counter the Chinese threat to vulnerable EU-NATO countries still grappling with technological gaps. As pointed out, the reference to China was left out, as it happens in many such documents. This omission plays into the public’s general lack of awareness of Chinese dual-use technology and facilities, so problematic in the context of US-Chinese rivalry and the general EU complacency opting for de-risking instead of long-term decoupling as effectively suggested in the 2023 US National Security Advisor’s speech, which should be top priority, at least within EU-NATO territory. The EU legislation and regulation could help reduce the risks from Chinese influence despite needing a US-like, stringent foreign investment screening, a long-term vision, and a majority vote system within the Council for common and security policy.

The role of human and non-human intelligence to counter the possible critical info gathering by port facilities is essential.

In the Greek case, developing a state industry and infrastructures reliant on Western technology and expertise would make the country less prey to undue Chinese interference and infiltration. The 2020 US-led Clean Network Agreement is a first step that should become mandatory in the NATO-EU area and for potential partners outside. Seeking a partnership with a rival Chinese company should go hand in hand.

Further development of the Greek maritime strategies and capabilities through NATO partners is strategic to avoid the temptation to get Chinese technological know-how. NATO and EU countries should opt mainly for Western technology to limit the national security threat as much as possible by cooperating, sharing and supporting aid packages. Moreover, the US should persuade Greece to terminate the lease and actively thwart the furtherance of ties by utilising the remunerative prospect of closer strategic ties and assistance compared to the Chinese lack of interest in the pursuance of organic military alliances, strong US-Greek cooperation in East Med issues, given how NATO member Turkey intends to further Chinese influence and interests in the area. From this assessed limitation, it is, nevertheless, advised to monitor Chinese use of seemingly inoffensive ventures for cooperation and assistance and port facilities for covert military use from EU-NATO territory and even not underestimate Chinese use of humanitarian help, non-combative ventures and support, and cultural cooperation for occult ways to penetrate into.


The Greek case concerns the Euro-Atlantic capacity to navigate through the asymmetric threat represented by Chinese investments, the dual-use of infrastructures and port facilities, and the risk of re-alignment of an EU-NATO Country’s Foreign Policy when it suits to tie the host country to the Chinese economic system, thus undermining Western unity.

In the tumultuous modern and contemporary Greek history, anti-Americanism and dissatisfaction with the EU were exploited by Moscow. With the decline of Russian influence, China’s insistence on a new world order might gain ground by anti-establishment parties. 2018 Pulse Opinion polls showed how China ranked only second to France in a positive outlook, thus suggesting a remarkable disinterest in Chinese undemocratic practices, the repressive political regime and the authoritarian, party-controlled economic system. Russia also fares modestly.

To conclude, as Russian irrelevance becomes a reality, short-sightedness to the growing Chinese systemic threat is the real test of the Euro-Atlantic security by targeting its weak links.


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