Xi makes 'symbolic' stop in Greece

Xi makes 'symbolic' stop in Greece
A handout photo provided by the Greek prime minister's press office shows Chinese President Xi Jinping (C-R) and Greek Prime minister Antonis Samaras (L) on July 13, 2014 during a visit of the medieval castle on the island of Rhodes.

President Xi Jinping got a warm welcome from Greek leaders during a stopover on the Greek island of Rhodes on his way to South America on Sunday, with both Greece's president and prime minister coming to the island to meet with him.

It is also the second high-level visit to the southern European country by a Chinese top leader in a month, which local media hail as "highly symbolic" showcasing the two countries' strong willingness to further strengthen ties.

Xi landed on Rhodes on a technical stop en route to Brazil, where he will attend the BRICS summit.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras came to the airport to welcome Xi and Greek President Karolos Papoulias hosted a welcoming banquet for Xi.

Samaras held talks with Xi in the historic palace of the grand master of the Knights of Rhodes before showing Xi around the ancient heritage site.

During the meetings, Xi noted that both the Greek president and prime minister came a long way to the island to receive him during the stopover, which strongly indicates the Greek people's deep affection toward the Chinese people and the great importance the Greek government attaches to its relations with China.

The leaders of the two countries also pledged to strengthen cooperation in several key sectors.

Xi said China supports its firms' management of the port of Piraeus and joins in Greece's railway technology development, making Greece a key hub of China-Europe cooperation.

The operation of Piraeus - where Chinese company COSCO already has a strong presence - has shortened the time it takes to transport Chinese goods to the European Union.

Papoulias also said Greece welcomes Chinese investment and hopes to enlarge cooperation in the maritime and infrastructure construction sectors.

"As Greece is emerging from the shadow of its sovereign debt crisis, we are more motivated to cooperate with China, and are ready to enhance cooperation in sectors including communications, energy, environmental protection, science and technology innovation and modern logistics, and make Greece the gateway to the European market," Samaras said.

The two countries have helped each other in times of crisis before. China gave support to Greece when it was entangled in its sovereign debt crisis. And Greece had helped China when it withdrew tens of thousands of overseas Chinese from the war-torn country of Libya several years ago.

Local media said Xi's stopover is "highly symbolic", showcasing the two countries' readiness to further strengthen their ties. Premier Li Keqiang visited the country in May, with the two countries signing a wide range of agreements.

Xi's trip to Rhodes is also widely seen as a message to Chinese citizens to visit Greece.

Xi is scheduled to leave Rhodes for Brazil on Monday. In Latin America, Xi is set to pay state visits to Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. He will also attend the sixth BRICS Summit and the China-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit in Brazil.

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