|Mesić: Croatia should seek cooperation at the level of Chinese regions|
|6th July 2022|
|This year's anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Croatia and China is an opportunity to recall significant successes in bilateral cooperation between the two countries over the past thirty years.|
On this occasion, Chinese Radio International with Stjepan Mesić, Croatian president (in two mandates) from 2000 to 2010. and to the "oldest" Croatian statesman, at the same time a rare interlocutor who, based on his own experience, can provide a comprehensive overview of the development of Croatian-Chinese cooperation.
Mesić was the first president of the Croatian government (1990), shortly after the acquisition of Croatian independence, he was the president of the Croatian Parliament (1992-1994) and an active participant in the political events of the 1990s. Previously, he was a Croatian member of the last presidency of Yugoslavia (from 1990 to 1991), and as president of the presidency of the SFRY in the second half of 1991, he was the secretary of the Non-Aligned Movement. After the January 3 changes, he becomes the second president of the Republic of Croatia and presides over the key period of completing the transition processes on the political and economic level. At the same time, during the strong foreign policy focus on Euro-Atlantic integration, President Mesić was one of the most important political actors who emphasized the value of (re)connecting and cooperating with the countries of Africa and Asia.
In the conversation that we started in his office in Zagreb, Mesić shared the experiences of his first personal contacts and socializing with Chinese students during his studies in Zagreb. At the end of the 1950s, shortly after the establishment of relations between Yugoslavia and China, the first group of Chinese students came to Zagreb, mostly technical and linguistic. Among them is a significant number who continued to maintain cooperation with Croatia after their studies, some of whom Mr. Mesić had the opportunity to meet again later in prominent positions in the Chinese administration. Zagreb and other university cities were intersections of student exchange with the wider world of Africa and Asia, and contributed to a stronger visibility and positive perception of our people and country in those parts of the world. By maintaining this "living" network and relying on the policy of non-alignment with which the former Yugoslavia built its own recognition on the international scene, Croatia, as one of its successors, should use it more clearly in initiating cooperation towards the world "outside of Europe" and forming global foreign policy in general - Mesić points out. . Appropriate nurturing of these links and evaluation of their potential for the purpose of economic profitability, as he says, can especially come to the fore when entering into cooperation with an immeasurably larger economic and trade partner such as China.
The period of his presidency also coincides with China's opening to economic and wider cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, so during that time, thanks to his support, Croatia responded positively to the initial initiatives from the Chinese side. The result of this approach was the visit of the Chinese President Hu Jintao to Croatia in June 2009. The first and still the only visit of the Chinese President to Croatia followed the visits to Portugal and Slovakia, which, Mesić explains, was an indication that Croatia was "mapped" in China's foreign policy initiatives, beyond the exclusively regional and broad multilateral cooperation mechanisms in which countries the size of Croatia are usually classified. The Chinese president assessed the relations between our two countries as friendly, and the Chinese delegation, which included State Secretary Dai Bingguo and current "permanent member" Wang Huning, opened numerous areas of joint cooperation with their Croatian colleagues. Numerous bilateral agreements have been signed, ranging from education, health and sports exchanges to trade and investment cooperation.
In the conversation with the then President Hu Jintao, Mesić recalls many shared opinions about the history and perspectives of bilateral cooperation, and he especially points out that in the conversation with President Hu, he pointed out the direct connection between the two countries. Namely, China and Croatia cherish the tradition of leading an independent anti-fascist and national liberation struggle, which puts both countries on the right footing for co-shaping the modern international order. In this regard, he touched on the importance of creating a multilateral world of cooperation based on the institutions of the United Nations and said that unilateral and exclusive approaches to solving contemporary international crises are becoming unsustainable, and the restoration of stability and peace cannot be based on the interests of one great power. There he particularly emphasized the importance of China in contemporary international relations, believing that no one can stop its emergence on the global stage "in this Asian century".
An indispensable topic in this direction was the current crisis in Ukraine, for which Mesić repeated his earlier assessment about the illusion of victory that NATO was carried away with after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which gave impetus to its successive expansion towards the east without taking serious takes into account Russia's security concerns and previous promises made to the Russian side. However, Mesić points out, in the shadow of the open conflict between the USA and Russia over Ukraine, there is a much more serious and less and less hidden confrontation between the USA and China. The latter situation threatens to escalate into a world conflict if timely action is not taken to reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait, reduce provocative actions and initiate an open dialogue between Beijing and Washington on disputed bilateral and global issues.
With regard to the until recently hot topic of the global fight against the pandemic, Mesić is of the opinion that China, according to its own assessments of health security, implemented demanding and consistent protection of the population against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. He repeatedly pointed out that China is one of the most organized countries in which he has been and believes that the anti-pandemic measures in this country are the result of a comprehensive assessment of the impact that the spread of the pandemic can have on the health system of one billion and 400 million people, and that the responsibility towards health security in China and it can hardly be compared to other smaller countries.
In this sense, the role of the Chinese leadership and the Communist Party of China in creating a responsible social organization can serve as a model for the whole world, including Croatia. With regard to the past 100-year anniversary of the foundation and the upcoming 20th congress of the Communist Party of China, Mesić referred to China's transformational success in general and the fact that in the past hundred years this country has turned from a disunited semi-colony into a global superpower. It seems interesting from today that about forty years ago, Yugoslavia was one of the role models for China in implementing reforms and opening up. Although, as Mesić points out, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, our transition experience more likely later served the Chinese as a negative example, and less as a model.
Mesić is also an exhaustive interlocutor on economic issues of bilateral cooperation. After his presidential term, he published the book "China in the Balkans", which he co-authored with the distinguished Croatian economist Ljubo Jurčić and international relations expert Jasna Plevnik. Although the book reflects the period of "discovery" of the potential of economic cooperation with China, some guidelines stated in the book, such as the importance of recognizing one's own geo-economic role in multilateral initiatives and recognizing unique opportunities for cooperation, still have weight. He added that today there are many areas in economic cooperation that are promising, but have lost focus, as well as some in the field of education whose potential is still underutilized. The emphasis that should be given here is the segmentation and focus of cooperation with equal economic partners:
"Croatia cannot compete with the whole of China, that is why a more appropriate modus operandi should be sought at the level of Chinese regions, provinces and cities".
There are some moves in this direction, several Croatian cities already have developed cooperation with Chinese cities. Recently, for example, the city of Čakovec "twinned" with the city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province, which was again realized through a "live" network. There are numerous other initiatives as well as possibilities for "calibrating" cooperation in this direction, because "even the whole of Croatia could enter into cooperation with some Chinese cities." He points out that tourism is an area for which all prerequisites exist for deepening and expanding bilateral cooperation. Croatia is recognized as a tourist destination in China, there are also specific "niches" in the tourist offer that seem attractive to Chinese tourists, but - to return to the previously mentioned segmentation - it is necessary to take a step in order to more clearly profile and approach those Chinese tourists who would were happy to be Croatian guests.
At the end of our conversation with Mesić, we left questions about his personal experiences in cooperation with China in the period after the presidency. He recalled how he had the honor to meet and talk with former and current presidents Jiang Zemin and Xi Jinping, many corporate leaders, provincial and city leaders, as well as some older acquaintances from their student days. In China, he was a guest at various gatherings and events on several occasions and is grateful for the hospitality and cordiality of the Chinese hosts.