Plenkovic meets Li Keqiang: Direct flights coming soon
Author: CSEBA / SEEbiz / N1 info
10th April 2019
ZAGREB - Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met with China's Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday in Zagreb, as part of Li's official visit to Croatia during which he will attend the 16+1 summit in Dubrovnik later this week.

During the meeting of the two delegations, Li and Plenkovic exchanged gifts - Li gave Plenkovic a basketball and a sports jersey, while Plenkovic gifted Li a soccer ball and an electric bicycle made by the Croatian company Rimac Automobili which specialises in developing parts for electric vehicles.

"This visit by Premier Li Keqiang and his delegation represents a new path for partnership and mutual respect, which gives us the opportunity to establish and intensify cultural and tourist relations, in order to achieve a better mutual visibility of our two countries," Plenkovic said in a news conference after the meeting.

The two countries' government delegations signed a host of bilateral agreements on Wednesday, designed to improve their trade relations and investments. After visiting the government building and the Parliament, Plenkovic and Li went to the nearby Klovicevi Dvori museum where they officially opened an exhibition about ancient Chinese culture.

"Today’s exhibition leads us down the same path that Marco Polo had taken. At the same time, this is an opportunity for China to get to know the culture and art of Croatia, a country which Chinese tourists have started to recognise as a tourist destination. Last year alone, 250,000 Chinese tourists visited Croatia, and - as premier Li mentioned earlier - they also followed many achievements of our sportspeople which serve as important promoters of Croatia in general," Plenkovic said.

Li thanked the host for their hospitality and said he was looking forward to the upcoming 16+1 summit in the southern city of Dubrovnik to be held on Friday, in which Li will meet with leaders of 16 Eastern European countries to discuss infrastructure projects and Chinese investments in the region.

"From what I heard, everyone watches the Game of Thrones series which was filmed in part in Dubrovnik. My friends who follow the series say that the last episode is airing around this time, just as we are coming to Dubrovnik to organise the 16+1 summit. I wish to emphasise that our cooperation is not some sort of a 'game of thrones,' but true cooperation for our mutual development and interests," Li added.

The major Peljesac Bridge project in southern Croatia which is being built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) has helped spur increased interest by Chinese companies to invest in the region.

The €282 million contract for the bridge, intended to connect the southern Adriatic peninsula of Peljesac with Croatia's mainland, was signed in April 2018. Some 85 percent of the construction cost is to be financed by EU funding, in what was the first major public tender in the EU won by a Chinese company. The actual construction started in January this year, and is expected to be completed by 2022.

Other major projects which might attract significant Chinese involvement include the Port of Zadar on the country's Adriatic coast. Last year, the Chinese company Jiangxiong Hua announced plans to buy a €29 million stake in the company operating the port, possibly turning it into a distribution hub for Chinese exports to the European Union.

The Zagreb-Rijeka railway is another infrastructure project which the Zagreb government hopes would attract Chinese investment. The railway, intended to be completed and modernised by 2030, would become a major transport link helping the northern Adriatic city of Rijeka become a major cargo port in the northern Adriatic region.

On the other hand, Croatia is hoping to attract more Chinese tourists to its Adriatic resorts. Although the numbers of Chinese visitors is steadily increasing in recent years - from 170,000 in 2017 to some 250,000 in 2018 - the main obstacles in boosting numbers of Chinese tourists are the complicated visa regime, as well as the lack of direct flights between the two countries.

"We still don't have a direct airline route to connect us. That is part of the reason why the numbers of Chinese visiting Croatia is still below market demand - however, I believe that the day of opening a direct airline route would come soon. And both the Chinese and Croatian governments will directly support that," Li said on Wednesday.

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