On March 31, reports emerged that Greece’s second largest port, the Port of Thessaloniki, was being targeted for acquisition by Chinese interests. At present the port is operated by the Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH), but one of the operator’s three main stakeholders, South Europe Gateway Thessaloniki, is in turn owned by French-Chinese joint venture, Terminal Link. It has been speculated that this joint venture could be acquired by China Merchant Holding. At present, Terminal Link is owned in a 51–49 consortium by French container shipping company, CMA CGM, and China Merchant Port Holdings.
According to Greek media, Terminal Link has already acquired all of CMA’s port holdings that were not already under the consortium’s ownership, and it is expected that China Merchants will ultimately assume control of CMA’s existing 51% in the company as the French entity sheds assets in an effort to increase liquidity.
Terminal Link presently maintains a 33% in OLTH, and China Merchant’s full acquisition of the consortium would signal that the Chinese state-owned enterprise will control one-third of the Thessaloniki port. The other two partners in the SEGT are Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH (47%), and Belterra Investments Ltd. (20%), the latter being a Cyprus-based company controlled by Russian-Greek businessman Ivan Savvidis.
China already controls Greece’s largest port, the Port of Piraeus. In 2016, state-owned COSCO Shipping acquired a majority stake in the port and has since increased investment in the development of the trade terminal. Piraeus is perceived as a critical node for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The combined access of Piraeus and Thessaloniki would offer Chinese interest significant access to European trade networks, due to the ports permitting efficient access to Serbian and Hungarian railway systems (which have also received significant technical and financial support from Chinese companies).