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Will China Buy Up Greece's Best Assets?

Port of Piraeus, Athens, Greece
Lonely Planet | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images
Port of Piraeus, Athens, Greece

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras headed to China on Wednesday, amid hopes that the world's second largest economy can revive one of the euro zone's most debt laden countries.

Greece is hoping that the five-day trade mission, which includes a delegation of around 70 businessmen, can attract investment as the country continues with the privatization of state-owned assets required under its international bailout deal.

Costas Michalos, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce who is participating in the trade mission, told CNBC that the visit corroborated "the excellent climate prevailing between Greek–Chinese relations" and said both sides were aiming at "jointly exploiting" major investment opportunities.


(Read More: Greece Is Better Investment Than China Right Now)

"We're on a very good road and the Chinese are interested in finding a gateway entrance into the European Union," Michalos told CNBC's Europe "Squawk Box." Speaking from Beijing, he said the Chinese interest in Greek assets had been encouraged by Greece's privatization program and selloff of its public assets.

"From the discussions we've already had here, the Chinese are interested in participating in these privatizations with local partners - Greek partners and sound Greek businesses. They don't want to enter the market on their own and there are good partnerships that are being developed," he said.

(Read More: Greece Reclassified as an 'Emerging Market')

China already has business interests in Greece and has been praised for turning around the fortunes of the Greek port of Piraeus, managed through its state-owned shipping giant Cosco. Michalos said that China appeared to be interested in expanding its presence in Greece's ports.

"Through the privatization program there has already been tremendous interest both in the regional ports in order to increase the Chinese presence in the main Greek port, but also in regional airports and real estate investments," Michalos added.

Greece's Investment Allure

The privatization program has seen the country consider selling state assets such as airports railways, real estate, utility companies and even Greek islands. Some of the world's top hedge funds have also looked to make big investments in Greek banks, which are seeking investors for their recapitalization plans.

In 2011, the country's troika of international lenders stipulated that Greece had to raise 50 billion euros ($64.3 billion) from privatizations made via its "Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, but the government has been criticized for being slow to sell assets and opposition to the program has been intense. In addition, the privatization fund has seen two chiefs resign in the last twelve months.

(Read More: China Tycoon Defends Bid for Chunk of Iceland)

Only at the start of May did Greece secure the first of its privatization deals, with the sale of its 33 percent stake in betting firm OPAP for 652 million euros to Greek-Czech investment fund Emma Delta.

Michalos said Thursday's meetings in Beijing would include business-to-business discussions over investments in the shipping, energy, investment and mining and ship-building sectors.

Greece Upbeat

Michalos disagreed with the economist who coined the term "Grexit", Citi Research's Ebrahim Rahbari, who said on Wednesday that the risks of a Greek exit from the euro zone had not gone away.

(Read More: Man Who Coined 'Grexit' Says Not Much Has Changed)

Michalos said: "The Greek economy as we all know was very recently upgraded and the spreads were immediately reduced. We're now talking of interest rates of 8.2 percent against the 30 percent we were looking at a year ago," adding that danger and uncertainty in the euro zone was posed by countries such as Spain, Portugal Italy and the "destroyed Cypriot economy" now.

"Greece has proven that it succeeded to get out of the mess that it found itself in three years ago and today the Chinese are much more interested than they were a year ago," he added. "We're on the right track I think."

He said: "The uncertainty factor [over Greece] is now an issue of the past. Greece has made a huge effort and has met its [bailout] commitments in full and has managed to leave permanently the threat of a 'Grexit.'"

Greece has displayed a new-found sense of optimism of late. On Monday, it said it hoped to return to the international debt markets next year and on Tuesday, Fitch ratings agency upgraded its credit status - although it is still a junk rating. Carrying on the week's positive attitude towards Greece, the yield on Greece's 10-year benchmark bond fell below 9 percent for the first time since 2010 on Wednesday.

But Schroders Fund Manager Andy Brough told CNBC he was unconvinced that Greece had "anything to offer the rest of the world."

"It's very hard for Greece to trade its way out of this when it actually doesn't have a great deal to sell to the rest of the world," he said. "Nothing happens in Greece - we're still going to be arguing about it in five years' time."

-By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt

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