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Speech by Chinese Ambassador Zou Xiaoli at the Event Celebrating the Lantern Festival in Thessaloniki

Distinguished Mr. Tzikas, President of TIF,

Mr. Pozrikidis, CEO of TIF,

Dear compatriots and friends,

A hearty happy Chinese New Year to you all!

It gives me great pleasure to attend this joyous and grand ceremony to celebrate the traditional lantern festival, which also marks the official beginning of China being the honoured country of the 2017 Thessaloniki International Fair(TIF). My sincere thanks go to the president and general manager of the TIF, distinguished guests, and every one present at today's event. At this moment of shared joy, we are also demonstrating a spirit of enterprise and unity for the new year.

Thessaloniki used to be an important stop on the ancient Silk Road that connected Asia with Europe and has left an indelible print on the history of human civilizations. Today, after weathering thousands of years of conflicts and wars, Thessaloniki, this historic city, is standing proudly with its beauty, inclusiveness, openness, and innovation, and has become a booming place for the exchanges of culture, commodities, and science and technology between the East and the West. TIF, with its long history of 90 years, is undoubtedly a crown jewel of the city. In 1998, China attended TIF as the first honoured country in the exhibition's history, where it demonstrated the outcomes from the initial stage of China's reform and opening-up process and TIF had become an important bridge for Chinese commodities to enter Europe ever since. Nineteen years on, China, now already the 2nd largest economy in the world, demonstrates its great attention to and great expectations of TIF and China-Greece cooperation by being the honoured country once again.

Like Greece, China is also an ancient yet young country. Peoples, cities, and businesses of the two countries share the same dream, that is, to realize the revitalization of their respective nations. It has been proven time and again that the futures of countries and nations are becoming increasingly intertwined. Only through enhanced cooperation can countries realize joint revitalization and become an inseparable community. That is why the Initiative of "Belt and Road", put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping, has won warm response and participation from most countries in the world, Greece included.

It is a strategic consensus between China and Greece to jointly build the Port of Piraeus into the most important hub of the Mediterranean and Europe and a crucial supporting point for "Belt and Road" cooperation. The railway which starts from Piraeus and goes to Central and Eastern Europe through Thessaloniki will connect the maritime Silk Road with the Silk Road on land. The implementation of the strategy will bring tremendous opportunities for economic integration and development for Greece and the Balkans, and will attract more Chinese businesses to be involved in the development of the region, especially in the fields of transportation, energy, and telecommunications to boost infrastructure connectivity. As an important link of China-Europe Land-Sea Express Route, Thessaloniki will surely embrace broader development prospects. It is my firm belief that the 82nd TIF will attract the attention of an unprecedented number of regional and global businesses.

This year also marks the year of China-Greece Cultural Exchanges and Cultural Industry Cooperation. As representatives of Western and Eastern civilizations, Greece and China boast rich historical and cultural resources, which can serve as an important driving force behind the growth of economic ties and friendship between the two countries. Against this backdrop, China's being the honoured country of TIF has assumed far-reaching significance and strategic importance.

China stands ready to keep close communication with Greece and work together with other participating countries to make the 82nd TIF a grand gathering of economic and cultural exchanges between China and Greece, Southeast Europe, the Balkans, West Asia and North Africa, and write a splendid chapter in the process of jointly building the New Silk Road in the 21st Century. Just as Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "Let's roll up our sleeves and speed up our work in 2017."

I would like to close by wishing all of you a happy Lantern Festival and a very auspicious and happy Year of the Rooster!



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