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Chastised by E.U., a Resentful Greece Embraces China’s Cash and Interests

China has already used its economic muscle to stamp a major geopolitical footprint in Africa and South America as it scours the globe for natural resources to fuel its economy. If China was initially welcomed as a deep-pocketed investor — and an alternative to America — it has faced growing criticism that it is less an economic partner than a 21st-century incarnation of a colonialist power.

If not looking for natural resources in Europe, China has for years invested heavily across the bloc, its largest trading partner. Yet now concerns are rising that Beijing is using its economic clout for political leverage.

Mr. Douzinas said China had never explicitly asked Greece for support on the human rights vote or on other sensitive issues, though he and other Greek officials acknowledge that explicit requests are not necessary.

“If you’re down and someone slaps you and someone else gives you an alm,” Mr. Douzinas said, “when you can do something in return, who will you help, the one who helped you or the one who slapped you?”

The Trump administration, recognizing it has a geopolitical and economic challenger, recently intervened to help lift an American deal over a Chinese competitor — and the Greeks seemed happy to play one power off the other.

E.U. officials are concerned that China is buying silence on human rights issues and undermining the bloc’s ability to speak with one voice. Analysts say China targets smaller countries in need of cash, among them Spain, Portugal and others that suffered in the financial crisis. Hungary, where China is pledging to spend billions on a railway, also blocked the E.U. statement on the South China Sea.

Many analysts have noted that Greece’s human rights veto came as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras returned from a summit meeting in Beijing in May, where he signed billions of euros’ worth of new investment memorandums with Chinese companies.

Greek officials insisted that, despite all the Chinese investments, the country identified with, and was loyal to, the E.U. and did not do China’s bidding. Some European officials are not so sure.

“The Greek government needs to choose where its alliances lie and realize the E.U. is not only a market, but first and foremost a community of values,” said Marietje Schaake, a prominent member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands.

Over the summer, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany tightened rules to limit takeovers of German strategic assets, a move aimed at Chinese state-backed firms. As Ms. Merkel put it to a German newspaper after Greece’s vote blocking the condemnation of Chinese human rights violations, Europe “has to speak with China in one voice.”

She added that China’s economic might allow it to pressure weaker European nations. “Seen from Beijing,” she added, “Europe is an Asian peninsula.”

Source: NYT > World

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