Air China to begin Greek flights in May

Air China will in May begin flights from Beijing to Athens, Greek officials said Thursday, with the debt-hit eurozone country eager to tap tourism income from the vast Chinese market.

"In early May, Air China will begin flights from Beijing to Athens via Munich," Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis said after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Fu Ying.

Greece, grappling with massive debt of over 300 billion euros ($425 billion), is trying to shore up its finances by boosting a tourism industry which accounts for nearly a fifth of its economy.

Fu noted that out of 60 million Chinese who travelled abroad in 2010, only 10,000 came to Greece.

"Our two countries are working to simplify tourist visas to Greece," Kouvelis said.

Fu was in Athens to deliver a letter of thanks from Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to his counterpart George Papandreou for Greek assistance in evacuating over 13,000 Chinese workers from conflict-torn Libya via Crete.

Over 36,000 Chinese overall were pulled out of Libya, making their way home through Greece, Malta and other countries.

"This enormous operation would not have happened without Greek help," Fu said, adding: "It is in difficult circumstances where true friends are seen."

In turn, she noted that China intended to continue its financial support of Greece, which almost defaulted last year when concerns about the state of its deficit-ridden economy sent its borrowing costs to unmanageable levels.

During a visit in October, Prime Minister Wen promised to buy Greek bonds as soon as the debt-hit country returns to the long-term money markets.

"China keeps its promises," Fu said.

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