Investing in a great relationship
As the financial crisis continues to deepen in Greece, Constantin Cakioussis is attempting to enhance Chinese-Greek relations and attract investment from China in his role as the consul general in Guangzhou.
With a backdrop of the city’s burgeoning landscape and the relatively new Asian Games stadium, Constantin Cakioussis sits in his office at the Greek consulate on the 21st floor of one of Guangzhou’s most prestigious hotels looking out over a city which has changed dramatically since he arrived.
He is friendly and funny yet serious and philosophical. He has a large, imposing build but he makes you feel instantly at ease with a welcoming face and eyes that show you he has seen the world and its problems. “According to Chinese I must have been cursed… ‘May you live in interesting times’,” he jokes.
Over the years, during his career, he lived in Finland when the Soviet Union collapsed, in Estonia as it emerged as an independent country, in Croatia and Bosnia during the last phase of the war, in southern Albania when the pyramid uprising caused the subsequent downfall of the state and where he lived in a lawless area – and that is just to name a few. “Now I live in China, the place to be, where at the end of the day everything is centred.”
Cakioussis has been in Guangzhou for two and half years and throughout this time the pinnacle has been the visit of the Vice President of Greece to the city. He tells us in the whole of southern China there are only 100 Greeks who are permanent residents as opposed to 30,000 Chinese people living in Greece, all of whom work in the business sector and contribute to the economy.
When speaking of the situation in Greece the sadness he feels is almost tangible. He explains that with practically one million people out of work, which is 20 per cent of the workforce and about 10 per cent of the entire country’s population, unemployment is not a marginal issue anymore. “It’s in every house; in every family… we are standing in front of a major challenge; an economic crisis which is also a social one because it’s so deep that it touches the very fabric of our society.”
In China, Cakioussis is working hard to help his country through this challenge and he believes that they can make a difference. “I think that China is proving and probing its muscle and so far the Chinese leadership has been very cautious. Understandably so… But China is a great power – this is undeniable – and it has obligations as well as rights.”
He explains that the two countries are working on many projects that he cannot talk about just yet, before the elections in Greece in May. But the aim is to encourage Chinese investment in Europe and in Greece. “We have to create a proper environment and wait for the Chinese leadership to define clearly their aims… but sometimes we Westerners are anxious to have it done fast.”
Yet Cakioussis knows the Chinese leadership is aware of their power and that they need to take careful steps with their money. He smiles as he repeats one Greek journalist’s joke: “The problem is that Chinese leadership have over liquidity. They are not allergic to their money.”
Although there are very few Greeks in China, Cakioussis does not particularly want more to come either as he says a people who leave in masses from their own country are ones who have no chance there and this is not what he wants for his country.
He also admits that the culture is so different that it can be very difficult to integrate into society as a foreigner. He says one of the major differences is the jump from a phonetic alphabet to an ideographic one – which can affect a people’s way of thinking. He explains it using Tai Chi as an analogy. “We break down the steps but for the Chinese it is one movement… It demands a level of mental flexibility which is not always easy.” Although he cannot speak the language here, and refuses adamantly to learn because of what may be lost in translation, he is teaching himself the Chinese characters, which he says is a beautiful challenge.
Unfortunately his time in China may come to an end at some point soon as the maximum he can stay is just four years. He hopes that by that time much will have been achieved from the relationship but again, he says, it is hard to tell right now.
One thing he does know for certain, however, is that he will miss Guangzhou. “The French say – leaving is like dying a little… I will leave part of myself here. The part I have invested in China.”
By Katy Gillett
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