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Speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias, at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing, 28.08.2018)

Tuesday, 28 August 2018


Greece and China: two countries of different sizes and with different roles in today’s globalization, both with long courses in the history of human civilization.

Greek civilization taught that anyone with a Greek education is Greek. Education, love of the arts and sciences, faith in the city-state and the homeland, and the endeavour to understand others characterized Greece’s cities and citizens. Socrates and Aristotle, the schools of philosophy and mathematics – all believed that humans are good by nature. That education must liberate citizens’ capabilities and make them useful to the city(-state).

The great teachers of China, and above all Confucius – but with the exception of the Chinese legalists – believed that human nature is good, but that education was needed for this nature to unfold and manifest itself.

Our history is for both of us a history of love for education and respect for coming generations.

When technology began to accelerate the development of societies, Athenian Society stopped believing that institutions and social change were products of the will of shadowy gods and authoritarian leaders. The condensation of time enabled it to see that the institutions were created by men and could be changed by the citizens of a democratic society. When changes did not take place at the pace and in the direction desired by society, and democracy did not function, citizens in ancient Greece had the right to disobey and even overthrow their leaders.

If ancient Greece gave birth to the notion and the institutions of democracy, China essentially gave birth to the modern state. A state with distribution of functions and with well-trained personnel, with special educational procedures for all ranks. Education became the mechanism for social mobility and gave birth to functional administration in the country. Like democracy in Greece, the notion of the need for harmony was born in China. Harmony with the heavens. And when this harmony was disturbed, the people had the right to rise up and restore the right to harmony.

China and Greece saw the development of schools of thought that, to a great extent, raised common questions in the same manner. In both countries, questions were posed that are still relevant today: what is life, thought, society? What is supernatural and what is natural? What is the meaning of life, and what is a good, correct and creative life? What is yesterday and what is tomorrow? What stance should we take on ethical/moral problems? What is the individual role in society; the part and the whole? What is humankind’s relationship with nature? What does nature give us, and what duties do we have to it?

Karl Marx, the second and third internationals (and in part at the so-called second-and-a-half), Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, like president Xi today, raised the questions and provided answers as to what capitalism is, what socialism is, how they are reached. Their questions and answers are pertinent for a whole era. They respond for the one country - two systems paradigm; the importance of productive forces and technology.

But our philosophers and wise men raised much more fundamental questions thousands of years ago. They did not concern only one era of humanity, but humanity’s very existence. And that is why their relevance is timeless, before capitalism, in capitalism, in socialism, and probably after socialism.

They posed fundamental questions about our existence, because they felt they were part of a large cultural, political entity, a nation. Not in the modern sense of the mass nation, but certainly in consciousness of a historical nation, at least on the part of the political, intellectual and social elites. This is why it is my profound conviction that it is wrong to equate the notion of the nation solely with the mass nations of the age of capitalism. An approach such as this cannot comprehend the history of China or the history of the ancient city-states of Greece, which had a very strong sense that of belonging to a common nation.

Our two countries made great achievements: in the development of the arts – Greek tragedy has much in common with Chinese opera – in the development of the sciences, from mathematics and physics to the production of papyrus and multi-coloured paper. From gunpowder and the compass to the art of smelting iron.

Our civilizations, our history, the achievements of our peoples gave us certain characteristics. Greece is to Europe what China is to Southeast Asia. We came of age and achieved great things in parallel.

But there is a major difference: the magnificence of Athens, of Ancient and Byzantine Greece, spread throughout the western world, but Greece and its city-states ceased to be the centre of western civilization. Conversely, the People’s Republic of China has an continuous presence as a regional and/or global power. Beyond the century of humiliation, it was and still is a force in cutting-edge high technology, major plans; it had and has a key role, high productivity, a large economy, technological development.

These common historical traits and significant differences raise a major question: What can the emerging significant power of the People’s Republic of China and small-but-proud Greece have in common?

I think the answer is easy, because we have seen it in practice in recent decades. Greece and China want a world that lives in peace and harmony. A world that thinks more before acting. That reflects and does not want to clumsily disrupt a world that is changing. But both understand that this world is changing. And they both have their parts to play in making this change happen with the least possible shocks and disorder/anarchy. They do not have the same role, of course. China has weight in Southeast Asia – in the world’s fastest-developing region – and globally, while the same is not true of Greece, whether in terms of dimensions or weight. Greece is very small in global politics. It is a mid-size country in Europe, but relatively large in the Balkans. The Balkans, a region of geostrategic importance: a maritime gateway to Europe and a source of much suffering in history.

China is a great power. Greece is part of a great power: the European Union. Greece does not compete with China in the way certain powerful EU member states do. What is more, thanks to its sense of history, it can endeavour to mediate between the EU as a whole and the People’s Republic of China. It is China’s best and oldest friend in the EU.

Today we are living the paradox of the two greatest powers of our age having completely different relationships with history, time, acceleration. One, the U.S., is one of the youngest states and nations. It does not feel the weight of history upon it, and that is why it is positively inclined towards new things. It makes decisions relatively quickly and, in recent decades, has accelerated its actions. This advantage is accompanied by the disadvantage that it does not have a real sense of history or the wisdom gained through experience. Historically speaking, it is a relatively young power that has drive, clear thought, and is not a prisoner of history. It is not afraid or inhibited.

The other power is China, a country with the longest cultural history in human memory. Sometimes, like Greece, it is at risk of becoming a prisoner of history. But, on the other hand, it has the experience of its history. Not to rush things. It is not restless. It has patience, sobriety, wisdom.

The EU is somewhere between these two powers in terms of the subject we are looking at here. The EU itself is much younger. But most of its member states are much older, and some have cultures that go back as far as the brilliant ages of Chinese civilization.

This is the first time history has brought together powers with such different historical origins, degrees of experience, types of capacities; a combination of youthful enthusiasm and experience.

Greece is a small country. In (the context of) this small size, it has advantages and disadvantages of all the sides. It can understand them well. It, too, feels the weight of its history, experience and wisdom. And it is often and crushingly a prisoner of its own history, but at the same time it learns from that history. It is a Western country, but from a cultural standpoint it is in a position to understand China’s patience, to perceive the historical importance of the major projects that comprise the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Like China, it is a historical actor. A small twin of China. It came of age in the same period, with similar wisdom and raising similar questions.

Due to this parallel age and culture, the great China of today can understand the significance of Greeks’ historicity, their contribution to global culture, including contemporary culture. China respects and works with little Greece. Together we created the Ancient Civilizations Forum – civilizations impacting today’s globalized world. An international initiative spanning four continents.

Greece, on the other hand, can understand why China does not consider anything and everything western to be universal. It understands that universality is born through understanding. That the existence of difference is a universal phenomenon. The values of the western Enlightenment are not by definition – and are often anything but – higher than Asian values or the values of Confucius and Mao. Global culture exists within its universality, including every national and regional difference. Because every step towards global integration can be accompanied by integration as the recognition of difference.

China went through a long period during which purely revolutionary forces and reform-oriented forces had to find a way to coexist, to create an amalgam of Chinese socialist modernization. A fact and historical imperative that found expression in the socialist modernization of Deng Xiaoping and the policy of One Country, Two Systems.

Greece, too, went through a crisis, which was caused by the global financial crisis and the need for certain changes in its political, social and economic system. But meeting this need was made more difficult by the fact that many of the changes were imposed from outside the country, by a neoliberal majority in the European Union and at the IMF. The changes carried out in the first six years (2008-2014) harmed society, but subsequently these changes imposed on Greece in order to save French and German banks – were accompanied by a parallel programme implemented by our government. A programme for bringing relief to the country’s middle and working classes and for restoring Greece to its (rightful) position on the regional and global stages.

Over the past three and a half years, Greece was able to emerge from the crisis. This does not mean (of course) that certain aspects of the multifaceted crisis do not live on in the country. It was able to return to positive growth rates, while having lost over 27% of its GDP over the past eight years. Greece is a country that paid dearly and excessively for the global financial crisis and the EU’s identity crisis.

Greece implements a proactive multidimensional foreign policy – as does China, in its own way of course. Over the past four years, on our initiative, 16 new formats have been created in the Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean region for regional/international cooperation schemes that constitute a new network of cooperation, friendship and peaceful mutual understanding in the region. The content of these cooperation initiatives is the security and stability these two sub-regions. Common economic and social growth. Growth that is being assisted by the extroversion of modern China.

As the south-eastern gateway to the EU, as the southern maritime gateway to Europe – especially Central and Eastern Europe – Greece can be and is the link between the world of China and that of the EU. Greece is the country that understands both sides. With one, it has had a parallel cultural course for thousands of years now, and it is part of the other. It is the country that can and does facilitate mutual understanding between two worlds that have modernized and need to modernize even more.

Greece and China have their own traditions, histories, cultures. They have many differences, as their centres of gravity – the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, on the one hand, and Southeast Asia, on the other – are very different in terms of size, identity, habits and understanding of many issues. But they also have shared outlooks on the major universal questions facing humanity. They also have many common structures.

Of these, I will single out the presence in both countries of Muslim communities; a past in which conquering neighbours perpetrated crimes against our two countries and peoples; major seas in which international law and custom play an important role.

One of Hellenism’s most substantial problems is the Cyprus issue. The illegal occupation of the northern part of Cyprus by third powers. The effort to “Taiwanize” this portion of Cyprus, in exactly the same way the West attempted – through multiple conquests, in the past, on the part of Japan and Portugal – to break One China into two entities.

It is no coincidence that Greece and China are among the staunchest defenders of states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of their independence and of deterring policies aimed at humiliating UN member states. This is why they attach great importance to compliance with international rules and agreements. And to these agreements’ being the result of equal participation of all sides.

The common quest for answers to universal questions. The need to correctly study history – which is the school of both our nations – contemporary geopolitical issues and problems in the implementation of international law; aspects of our cultures, from clothing to cuisine, theatre and the sciences; institutions and a people’s right to harmony with the heavens. These are fields in which we have strong and internationally recognized positive unique characteristics, and they are a common field of study between our two governments, institutes, research centres and universities. The joint study of such issues must be bolstered.

Cooperation between China and the EU – through capitalizing on Greece’s special role in the harmony between these two worlds – is another key and special field of action for our two states and peoples. Thanks to the growth courses of both our economies – on different scales and at different rates, of course – we can better develop the economic and social contacts between our states and societies. Chinese investments, led by Cosco’s investment in the Port of Piraeus, the development of trade, where I think Greek agricultural products can be promoted much more effectively in China, exchange of know-how and collaboration between new companies (start-ups), shipping, a sector in which Greece is a leading global player with a long tradition, and tourism are a few of the sectors for further development of the relations between our two states.

Increasing cultural and education exchanges is vital to the more substantial development of our relations. We need to carry out comparative studies of our parallel pasts and promote comparative studies on contemporary problems. We need to strengthen collaboration in the sectors of modern sciences.

Your invitation is a great honour for a friend of the People’s Republic of China and of Chinese culture. It is a small pebble in the great edifice of friendship that we are building between our states and peoples.

Thank you, xiè xie.