We welcome Chinese investment, Greece’s digital minister says

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (R) speaks during a press conferense next to Chinese President Xi Jinping after their meeting at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, 11 November 2019, during his two-day official visit to the country. [EPA-EFE/ARIS MESSINIS]

The Greek government is open to the idea of further Chinese investment into a range of public and private sectors, including in the field of telecommunications, the country’s digital minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis, told EURACTIV on Tuesday (3 December).

The comments – likely to ruffle some feathers across the Atlantic – came just a day after US President Donald Trump revealed that he would like to discuss Greece’s stance on 5G security when the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits Washington on 7 January.

“With regards to the presence of specific companies we are, on the whole, welcoming of Chinese investment in Greece,” Pierrakakis said in response to a question on whether Greece would consider working with the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei while concerns remain about the involvement of third-country players in the EU’s 5G network.

Greece is set to hold a 5G spectrum auction before the end of 2020.

EU Ministers adopt 5G conclusions

On Tuesday, EU telecoms ministers banded together to adopt a common approach with regards to the security of the unions’s 5G infrastructure, saying that the bloc’s security approach to the technology should be “comprehensive and risk-based” but also that non-technical factors should also be taken into account when a supplier’s risk profile is drawn up.

For his part, however, Pierrakakis is keen to ensure that the citizens of Greece have access to the key enabling technologies that could help bolster the country’s digital profile.

Greece is currently number 26 out of 28 in the Digital Society and Economy Index, something that Pierrakakis has pledged to improve on dramatically. This is already an improvement from 2018, when the country ranked 28th in the list.

“Our primary concern is how to leapfrog this position within four years,” he told EURACTIV. “We have made a public commitment that we would ideally like to reach the average within four years.”

Such a boost in Greece’s digital industries would require a concerted effort to increase funding in a range of sectors. However, the country is dependent on foreign investment to drive this development and is open to the idea of contracting further agreements with China in order to facilitate the country’s digital revolution.

Greece and China

In August last year, Greece announced that it would take part in China’s Belt and Road initiative – a landmark development plan involving infrastructure and investments stretching across more than 80 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, making it the largest infrastructure project in history.

During a visit to Athens in mid-November, China’s President Xi said that he wanted to boost investment into the Saronic Gulf’s Piraeus port, after China’s shipping firm Cosco purchased a majority stake in Piraeus port in 2016. The port is regarded as a strategic hub to facilitate trade between Asia and Europe.

Amid this climate however, the Americans are keen to impose political pressure on Greece to distance itself from further involvement in Chinese infrastructure projects.

A statement from the White House read earlier this week that during Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington in January, President Trump will “emphasise the importance of telecommunications security, especially related to 5G”.

In a bid to reinforce the US message, the Trump administration has adopted an aggressive communications strategy in recent months, which has seen Brussels reporters receiving regular briefings from US officials. On Thursday, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber, Robert Strayer, is set to talk with Brussels journalists about the EU ministers’ recent commitment to 5G security.

EU timeline

The European Commission published a report in October on the coordinated risk assessments of 5G networks, following a call for member states to raise their concerns. The review highlighted that “threats posed by states or state-backed actors are perceived to be of highest relevance.”

Member states have now been tasked with working on a set of risk alleviating measures to mitigate the cybersecurity risks outlined in the report.

EU nations will work alongside the Commission and ENISA, the European Agency for Cybersecurity, in the drawing up of the plans, which are set to be ready by the end of December this year.

For Greece, the country’s digital ministry is set to establish a ‘360 cybersecurity strategy’ that will take into account the concerns highlighted at the EU level.

And although Pierrakakis was keen to note that Greece would follow whichever turn the EU takes in terms of its 5G security strategy, before everything else, he pledged his alliance to the Greek people over any other political or security union.

“Our primary concern, and the concern of this ministry and of this government, is the provision of services to citizens,” he said, adding that they specifically want to make digital public services more accessible to citizens.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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