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中国的下一个收购目标:希腊的战略性港口

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    As voters the world over know, political campaign promises can fly out the window when they hit cold hard reality. So it is in Greece: Just look at the major port of Pireaus, which has served as Athens’ shipping harbor since the ancient Greeks ruled the seas 2,500 years ago.

    Sadly, the glorious Greek Empire is long gone. And now its descendants in power in Athens are close to selling off Pireaus Port to a current-day imperial giant: China.

    The sale, if it goes through as expected, would be a stunning political about-face. It would reverse one of the key promises of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party, which won the Greek elections back in January, partly by vowing to halt the sale of Greece’s strategic assets—one of the biggest being Piraeus Port—as part of his party’s defiance against austerity demands from international creditors. For months since, Greek officials have been loath to admit that their campaign promise will be impossible to keep; Economy Minister George Stathakistold reporters in late February that the port would “remain permanently under state majority holding…as we made clear from the first day.”

    But what is much clearer now is that the Greek government’s control over their major port is about to end. As part of Syriza’s deal last month with the IMF, European Commission and the European Central Bank to repay about €240 billion ($254 billion at the current rate) that Greece borrowed back in 2010, Tsipras was compelled to leave Piraeus Port up for sale.

    For China, that is excellent news, since its state-run shipping behemoth, COSCO Group, is in pole position to snap up the 67% of Pireaus Port the Greek government controls. Back in 2008, COSCO leased one of two Piraeus terminals in a 35-year operating lease worth about €490 million. For Greece, the infusion of money was a godsend. And for China, the deal brought advantages it has sought in Europe for years: A role in operating Europe’s infrastructure as a partner.

    In fact, Pireaus is key to far bigger plans China has for Europe, including huge new trade with some of the E.U.’s fastest growing markets. “There was speculation that a massive investment in Pireaus might open a whole new entry point into Europe from the South,” Alan Murphy, CEO of SeaIntel, a maritime consultancy in Copenhagen, tells FORTUNE. That investment, he says, will be supported by “growth markets in central and Eastern Europe.”

    China’s Greek plans are already evident: Huawei now runs a logistics center in Pireaus Port, and a Chinese-built rail link is being constructed to connect Pireaus with Central Europe—a route that could trim several days off the regular journey container trucks and freight trains take from Europe’s three major ports of Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Antwerp. “Look at the map: Greece is really strategically placed,” says BlankaKoleníková, Senior Analyst for the region’s economy for the consultancy IHS, by phone from London. ”It’s the gateway between Middle East, the Balkans, the E.U., so from the Chinese point of view it’s a really good entry point. To have more leverage in Greece it would be highly desirable for China.”

    Since COSCO took control of Piraeus’s Pier II, the company has been massively upgrading the port’s outdated crane system and it has built a new deep-water dock capable of accommodating today’s giant new container ships. As a result, traffic in Piraeus has rocketed to about 3 million containers a year. COSCO says it aims to double that by next year if it wins the bid to operate the rest of the port. If it succeeds, Pireaus could feasibly become as big a container port as Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp, all of which sit across the continent.

    But that is only part of the story. In fact, Piraeus’s bifurcated operation has become a study in contrasts between two worlds: China’s hyper-efficiency and the deep management problems that beset cash-strapped Greece.

    On the one side of the port stand the two quiet piers, still in Greek government hands. On the other is COSCO’s operation, which has become a magnet for monster ships needing state-of-the-art loading gear to move millions of containers. “We are simply twice as fast,” COSCO’s Piraeus chief executive, Chinese Navy captainFu Cheng Qui, told the German magazine Der Spiegelthis week. “We can complete 36 container movements per hour, and time is money. Look, Pier I is almost empty,” he told the reporter, looking out the window at the Greek-run side of the port. “That is very sad.”

    Sad indeed, as much of Greece’s dire situation is. Since being elected, Tsipras and his key ministers have been in constant motion in Brussels, Paris, Moscow—and Beijing—attempting to forge agreements, and to plead for enough time to stave off bankruptcy, and so avoid Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. On Thursday Greece repaid a €450 million loan to the IMF with just hours to go before defaulting.

    But there are far more debts to be paid, and Greece’s public deficit is currently about 175% of its GDP. For Tspiras, warding off total bankruptcy has become a lot more urgent—and doable—than implementing the anti-austerity program that catapulted his Syriza party to power. If that means selling Greece’s prized assets to Beijing, it now seems worth ditching his statement that he would hold on to the country’s strategic assets. He would not be the first politician, nor the last, to break his election promises.

    全世界的选民都知道,政客在竞选时的承诺是没法当真的,一旦碰上残酷的现实,那些甜言蜜语就飞到九宵云外去了。希腊就是这样:只要看看比雷埃夫斯港的命运就可以了。早在2500年前,当古希腊统治海洋的时候,它就是雅典的主要货运港口。

    悲哀的是,辉煌灿烂的古希腊早已湮没在历史的长河中。如今的雅典执政者正打算把比雷埃夫斯港卖给当今世界的强国之一——中国。

    如果这笔交易成功达成,它将是一次令人震惊的政治大变脸。今年1月份,总理阿莱克斯•齐普拉斯领衔的希腊左翼同盟之所以成功赢得大选,部分原因就是左翼同盟曾向选民誓称,绝不靠出卖国有战略资产向国际债权人还债(其中最大的一笔资产就是比雷埃夫斯港)。大选后的几个月,希腊官方仍不愿坦承他们不可能遵守当初的承诺。希腊经济部长乔治•斯泰撒基斯2月曾对媒体表示,比雷埃夫斯港“将永远处于国家多数控股下……就像我们一开始就阐明的那样。”

    但现如今,局势已变得分外明显:希腊政府对比雷埃夫斯港的控制权即将终结。根据左翼同盟政府上个月与国际货币基金组织、欧盟委员会和欧洲央行达成的协议,希腊政府需偿还它于2010年借贷的2400亿欧元债款(以当前汇率来算约为2540亿美元)。在这种情况下,齐普拉斯几乎是不得不出售比雷埃夫斯港来筹措债款了。

    对于中国来说,这是一个绝好的消息,因为国有航运公司中国远洋运输集团极有可能拿下希腊政府控制的67%的比雷埃夫斯港股权。早在2008年,中远集团就曾以约4.9亿美元的价格租下了比雷埃夫斯港两个集装箱码头中的一个,租期为35年。这笔钱对希腊政府来说不啻于雪中送炭。另一方面,这笔交易也为中国提供了一个它已经苦苦寻找多年的机会,即在欧洲的基础设施领域扮演一个运营伙伴的角色。

    事实上,中国有一个更加庞大的欧洲计划,而比雷埃夫斯港正是一枚关键的棋子:中国可以利用这个重要港口,与欧盟的一些经济增长最快的国家开展巨额贸易。哥本哈根航运咨询公司SeaIntel的CEO艾伦•墨菲对《财富》表示:“有一种推测认为,对比雷埃夫斯港的巨额投资,将会打开一个从南方进入欧洲的新大门。”他还表示,这笔投资将会受到“中东欧增长型市场的支持。”

    中国布局希腊的计划已经相当明显:华为公司已经在比雷埃夫斯港建立了一个物流中心。此外,中资企业铺设的连接比雷埃夫斯港和中欧地区的铁路目前正在施工,这条铁路将为来自欧洲三大港口(汉堡、鹿特丹、安特卫普)的货车和货运客车节省几天的时间。咨询公司IHS的欧洲经济高级分析师布兰卡•库伦尼科瓦在伦敦接受电话采访时表示:“看看地图就知道,希腊的战略位置非常重要。它是中东、巴尔干和欧盟之间的咽喉。所以从中国的观点看,它是一个极好的进入点。中国要想在希腊取得更大的影响力,比雷埃夫斯港就将是非常重要的。”

    自从中远集团接入比雷埃夫斯港的2号码头以来,该集团已对该码头老旧的吊装系统进行了大规模升级,并且新修建了一个深水船坞,用来停泊现代化的新型巨轮。因此,比雷埃夫斯港的年吞吐量已经飙升至300万只集装箱。中远集团表示,如果该集团成功收购了比雷埃夫斯港的其它部分,它的吞吐量明年将有望再翻一番。一旦实现这个目标,比雷埃夫斯港的货运能力将不亚于欧洲三大港,而后者均座落于欧洲大陆的另一端。

    不过这仅仅是其中的一方面。另一方面,比雷埃夫斯港这几年“一港两制”的经历也展现了两个世界的鲜明对比:中国的效率超高,而缺乏资金的希腊存在严重的管理问题。

    在比雷埃夫斯港的那一边,还有两个静静的码头仍处于希腊政府的控制下。与那边的安静不同,中远集团的码头仿佛是吸引巨型货轮的磁铁一般,每年使用先进的吊装设备忙碌地装卸数百万只集装箱。中远集团比雷埃夫斯港负责人本周对德国《明镜周刊》表示:“我们的速度是他们的两倍。我们每小时可以装卸36个集装箱。时间就是金钱。你看,1号码头那边差不多是空的。”他隔着窗子,看着希腊控制的那个码头,对记者说:“太可怜了。”

    的确是太可怜了,希腊的总体情况也是一样。自从当选后,齐普拉斯和他的部长们整天在布鲁塞尔、巴黎、莫斯科和北京之间穿梭,试图订立协议,争取更多时间避免破产,同时也避免希腊被欧元区“开除”。上周希腊政府刚刚向IMF偿还了一笔4.5亿美元的贷款,当时离这笔贷款违约只剩下几个小时。

    当然,等待希腊偿还的债务还要多得多,而希腊的财政赤字目前已经达到了GDP的175%。对于齐普拉斯来说,目前更紧迫也更实际的任务,是如何让希腊避免破产,而不是竞选时用来邀买民心的反紧缩政策。如果这意味着希腊不得不把宝贵的资产卖给中国,那么齐普拉斯丢掉“保卫国有资产”的豪言壮语也是值是的。毕竟违背竞选誓词的政客,他不是第一个,也不会是最后一个。(财富中文网)

    译者:朴成奎

    审校:任文科

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