CROATIA is dedicated to promoting cooperation and friendship with China, and in the process also with other countries involved in the Belt and Road Inititiative (BRI). For Croatia, this cooperation is very important, but it is actually not new.
Our recorded links date back to the 13th century when the famous explorer Marco Polo, born on the Croatian island of Korcula, brought to Europe the rich culture of China via the ancient Silk Road.
Today, Croatia attaches great importance to cooperation and economic exchange within the BRI framework. The Belt and Road Initiative opens the way for more and more Chinese companies that have an interest in co-operating with Croatia, especially in the areas of investment in Croatian ports, airport, and energy sector.
We are priviledged to have an excellent geostrategic position, with several important ports, such as Rijeka, Zadar and Ploe, which have an important competitive position on the Belt and Road trade routes.
Former Croatian ambassador to China Nebojsa Koharovic.
In that respect, Croatia welcomes the entrance of Chinese corporations into the operational and logistical management of the Croatian Port of Zadar, one of the fastest growing Mediterranean ports. The new Chinese owner of the Port of Zadar is investing both in the port capacity as well as in the huge logistic zone, making the port and the business zone attached to port the biggest logistics hub for Chinese goods in this part of the Mediterranean. Zadar is projected to become the port of entrance for Chinese goods and center of logistics operations for this part of Europe. This is all part of the memorundum of understanding on cooperation in ports and port industrial parks signed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic during the China-Central and Eastern Europe summit in Riga in November 2016. Chinese investors are also likely to be given concessions on the Zadar International Airport, one of the fastest growing Airports in the European Union (EU) at this moment.
The Republic of Croatia welcomes construction of the Pelješac Bridge by a Chinese consortium headed by China Road and Bridge Corporation. This is currently the biggest strategic project in our country, planned to be finished in 2019. It is a historic project because for the first time a Chinese company has won a public bid in a member state of the EU on a tender issued by the European Commisision (EC). This is a huge breaktrough for the Chinese global presence, showing that Chinese companies could win a tender requiring the most demanding and highest standards in the world. For the Chinese side being able to win the transparent international tender is also a welcome experience, introducing a new way of doing bussines that could benefit intenationalization of Chinese companies in general. For all these reasons we are very proud of this project’s sucess. The project is worth about €300 million and the two additional phases worth about €1 billion.
Croatia’s enchanting scenery.
The mentioned projects of the port and bridge are of extreme importance for taking bilateral relations to a new level – not just a partnership, but a potential strategic relationship. Croatia has a unique geographical position in this regard and huge government support to open up to Chinese investors, both to Croatian and EU markets.
The fact that in 2017 Croatia had a breakthrough in its investment relations with China is also proven in the energy sector. Windmill projects of the Chinese company China North Industries Cooperation (Norinco), worth US $200 million in renewable energy, started last year. New projects in this sector worth US $500 million are to be concluded soon. Chinese investments over the past year could be measured in hundreds of millions of dollars.
It is also important to note a recent important success of the Croatian electric car company Rimac in China – makers of the fastest electric car in the world and one of the most prestigeous. The car known as Concept One, is a globally known product utilizing cutting edge tehnology. Cooperation between Rimac and China-based Camel Group, already worth more than US $200 million in mutual investments, is a shining example of knowledge transfer.
However, one field in which Croatia is gaining a firm ground on the Chinese market, and creating a brand name, is certainly tourism. We accomplished an increase in the number of visits by Chinese tourists of nearly 60 percent for the last two years in a row. In 2017 we reached the number of more than 200,000 Chinese mainland tourists, which we consider as only part of our potential. Moreover, Croatia has succeeded in attracting the first big Chinese investments in the tourism sector, which now amount to US $300 million.
It should be noted, however, that the increase of the total commodity exchanges between the two countries was 11 percent in the first quarter of 2018 and the increase in the number of Chinese tourists was 56 percent in 2017, with the prospect of further significant increases. According to information from a survey conducted by the Chinese Embassy in Zagreb, more than 80 percent of Croatian citizens consider China a friendly country, 85 percent a good business partner, and 86 percent support larger investments from China in Croatia.
All these figures indicate a clear historic breaktrough in the positioning of Croatia in the eyes of Chinese business and the Chinese state strategy and Croatian welcomes that. Several centuries after Marco Polo’s famous journey, the Belt and Road is symbolically and finally coming back home.
NEBOJSA KOHAROVIC is former Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the People’s Republic of China.