Chinese government Vice-President Zhang Dejiang this week expressed Beijing's appreciation for the assistance Greece has offered in the evacuation of thousands of Chinese nationals from strife-plagued Libya, with the first evacuation vessels reaching Crete on Thursday.

Zhang Dejiang made the statement during a meeting in Beijing with visiting Greek Maritime Affairs, Islands & Fisheries Minister Yiannis Diamantidis, in the presence of China's Transport Minister Li Shenglin.

Diamantidis concluded his closely watched week-long visit to China and a series of high-profile contacts with Chinese leadership on Wednesday, with talks focusing on the implementation of a five-billion-dollar development fund for Greek shipowners to build new vessels in Chinese shipyards. The latter agreement was first broached by the Greek and Chinese prime ministers in Athens last October.

Diamantidis met with China's Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying and the heads of three of China's biggest banking groups, Bank of China, China Development Bank and Ex-Im, as the prospect of increasing the fund to 10 billion dollars was also raised by the bank executives if demand by Greek shippers dictates greater funding. Chinese bank officials also promised the most competitive lending rates in the world, according to reports, while also pledging to promote investments in Greece by their clients.

In other contacts, Diamantidis signed a bilateral "action plan" with Chinese Transportation Vice-Minister Weng Mengyong, an initiative that foresees financing for ocean-going shipping enterprises, bilateral cooperation in the sector as well as in maritime education. The Greek minister also visited the headquarters of the China Classification Society (CCS), where he was met by CCS President Li Kejun.

Finally, Diamantidis was received by Cosco President Capt. Wei Jiafu at the multinational's headquarters in Beijing, with talks directly centring on boosting Cosco's presence at the port of Piraeus -- where it holds a major and ground-breaking concession -- as well as elsewhere in the east Mediterranean nation.

"The (Piraeus) PCT terminal project opens up a new chapter for Cosco's presence in Greece, as we are becoming a more significant operator of container terminals in the world. Our commitment to make Piraeus a better trans-shipment hub in the region is based on the long term, and we aim to achieve a win-win situation with our Greek partners," Wei said, adding:

"China and Greece are both influential maritime nations. With a globalised economy and prospering trade relations across continents, we see modern shipping routes are functioning like a new Great Wall on the sea, one that links China and Greece in a very unique and extraordinary way."