$4.6B deals signed as China premier visits Greece

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang oversaw the signing of trade and investment deals worth some $4.6 billion with Greece Thursday during a visit expected to help boost the recession-plagued country's economy.

At a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Li expressed support for bailed-out Greece's economic revival effort.

He also said China plans to increase its purchases of Greek government bonds when new ones are issued in a sale expected later this summer.

"We have never abandoned the Greek bond market but we are increasing our purchases," Li said. "I have expressed my will to Mr. Samaras that when the Greek government issues new bonds China will continue to be a long-term and responsible investor in Greek bonds."

On the sidelines of Li's visit, Chinese and Greek delegations signed bilateral cooperation agreements in areas including energy and shipping worth about 4.6 billion dollars, according to the Greek Development Ministry.

Li reached Greece after a three-day trip to Britain. Analysts say Europe is becoming increasingly important to China in economic terms, sharing a relationship largely unburdened by the mistrust and intractable disputes Beijing shares with the U.S. and Japan.

"Li Keqiang wants to send a message to Europe that their old conception of China is no longer valid and to explain what it is exactly that China intends to do," said Cui Hongjian, director of European studies at the Foreign Ministry think tank, the China Institute of International Relations.

Samaras said he would like to see Greece, through its seaports and airports, become "China's gate to Europe."

"I believe we can create a junction for the transportation of people and goods" between China and Europe, he said.

On Friday the two prime ministers will visit Athens' port of Piraeus — Greece's biggest — where China's Cosco has a concession to operate container terminals. Li will then travel to the southern island of Crete, a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

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