ATHENS - Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday that China will work closely with the European Union (EU) as well as directly with Greece to tide over the once-in-a-century financial crisis.
China's commitment to advancing China-EU relations "is not an expediency, but a long-term strategic policy", the premier said during a speech at the Greek parliament.
Wen also stated in clear terms that China will not reduce its holdings of euro bonds and said it supports a stable euro.
"We sent trade and investment promotion missions to Europe and signed a series of important trade and investment contracts," he said, noting that the initiatives were specific examples of China's efforts to help Europe overcome its financial difficulties.
When talking about the bilateral Sino-Greek relationship, Wen drew upon many famous names and old sayings, from both China and Greece, to illustrate how the two great ancient civilizations had experienced trials and tribulations throughout their history but had never been deterred nor defeated.
"The shining names of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Archimedes have left a permanent mark in the annals of human civilization," said the premier, who added that he had been fascinated and inspired by stories about ancient Greece ever since he was a boy.
Socrates once said that adversity is the best school to temper one's willpower, Wen noted. He said there was a similar saying in China: Out of hardship grows success.
Wen was referring to the ongoing financial crisis that hit Greece very hard, largely because of its reliance on shipping and tourism - two industries that were severely affected by the economic downturn.
He said he was pleased to note that Greece was coming out of the shadow of a sovereign debt crisis.
"Your financial market is stabilizing, the fiscal deficit is fast coming down, investors' confidence is returning and the prospect of recovery is encouraging," he said.
To help Greece overcome its debt crisis, he said China is supporting measures taken by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and will set up special initiatives to support Greek ship owners buying vessels from China.
In May, Greece reached a loan agreement with other eurozone countries and the IMF for 110 billion euros.
While meeting with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, on Saturday, Wen said China has been holding Greek government bonds and will buy more to help the country recover from the financial crisis.
The range of steps and support has helped Greece make progress. The country's budget deficit fell 32.3 percent between January and August, exceeding the country's target of 26.5 percent.
Wen also said that China will work with Greece to manage the container terminal in Piraeus, the biggest port in Greece, and increase its capacity from today's 1.6 million to 3.7 million containers by 2015.
COSCO, China's leading shipping giant, successfully won a container operation project for Piraeus port in 2008. Under the terms of the contract, COSCO will manage Pier II and Pier III of Piraeus Container Terminals for 35 years.
The volume of containers that moved through the port between January and April increased by 43 percent compared with the same period last year, in spite of the financial crisis.
Wen noted that Sino-Greek ties were an epitome of the overall relationship between China and the EU.
"It is true that there is competition between China and Europe, but we have far more cooperation than competition," he said.
Europe's investment capital, commodities, technology and patents have found a vast market in China, while European consumers have not only had more choice but cheaper prices, thanks to China's exports, Wen said.
Europe's advanced technology and managerial expertise has helped China upgrade its industries, he noted.
Europe has been China's largest trading partner for six consecutive years, while China has risen to be the EU's second-largest.
Almost 200,000 Chinese students now study in Europe and more than 1 million Chinese tourists visit European countries each year.
The premier said he hopes the EU will recognize China's full market economy status as soon as possible, ease restrictions on the export of high-tech products to China and reject trade protectionism in order to create an environment conducive to the healthy growth of trade.
Greek Prime Minister Papandreou said on Saturday during his meeting with Premier Wen that the EU should indeed acknowledge China's market economy status and that the EU arms sale embargo should be lifted.
Chinese observers said the improvement in the relationship between China and the EU will be crucial in solving long-standing issues mentioned by Wen in his speech.
"It is more of a political issue than a technical one for the EU to recognize China's market economy status," said Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Feng said the EU, the maker of market rules, inevitably worries about competing with China's exports, especially after China gets complete market status. Feng said the speed at which the EU can recognize China's complete market status "also depends on how much the EU thinks its relations with China matters".
Feng was upbeat about Sino-EU relations, which he said "have shown great momentum in their trade ties and cooperation in various areas".
Jin Ling, an expert on EU studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said Sino-European ties were firmly bonded by their economic links and cooperation in such areas as techniques, climate change and energy security.
"Frictions are a result of their deepening bilateral relations," Jin said.
Wen chose Greece as the first stop in his four-nation tour, which will also take him to Belgium, Italy and Turkey.
"China and Greece, which have many things in common in their cultures and economic interests, have lots of pragmatic cooperation," Jin said. "Greece could have a crucial vote in some important issues in the development of Sino-EU relations."
Wen was expected to leave Athens for Brussels on Monday, where he will attend the eighth Asia-Europe Meeting from Oct 4 to Oct 5 and the 13th China-European Union Summit on Oct 6.