|Year 2019 brings a new chapter of Sino-Croatian fairy tale|
|Author: Siniša Malus|
|1st January 2019|
|ZAGREB – Year 2018 was a breakthrough in bilateral and economic cooperation between China and Croatia, and the 2019 brings even higher expectations.|
Early November’s visit of Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to PR China symbolically marked the year 2018 out as the most successful year in economic and bilateral cooperation between PR China and the Republic of Croatia. What started in January when China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) won the bid for the construction of the first phase of Peljesac Bridge was symbolically closed with the longest visit of current Croatian PM to any foreign country in his term. And everything what happened in between should also be considered as encouraging, to say the least.
Chinese investment into Zadar Port during 2018 was just an entrance point for what is to come to the Zadar region during 2019 and the period after that. Seen as strategically significant part of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, Zadar and neighbouring municipalities should soon become noteworthy destinations for investments coming from China. Zadar Port, as desirable entrance point for cargo coming from Far East into Europe, would reduce traveling time for around 10 days, and for that reason the often mentioned construction of the new modern container port is an obvious course of action. Moreover, Chinese enterprises have shown strong interest into development of special economic zones around Zadar, expansion of the Zadar Airport and reconstruction of the Zadar - Knin railway line. In similar context, the reconstruction of the railway line Rijeka – Zagreb – Botovo could also be interesting if the Rijeka Port would accompany the ongoing investment process into Zadar Port.
During 2018, Krapinske Toplice have also received first Chinese investments regarding hotel development specializing in medical tourism. During their December’s visit to Croatia, Chinese investment consortium from Beijing, Z-Run Well Ton Co., announced additional investment plans for Zagorje Region, more specifically Kumrovec and Krapinske Toplice, in terms of development of facilities for health, sports and congress tourism. For the year 2018, Krapinske Toplice have been chosen as the Best destination for health tourism in Croatia, currently holding a title that won’t be easily taken away from them, considering further development plans.
Many Croatian and Chinese companies signed agreements for joint venture projects during 2018: Koncar and China XD Electric for production of high-voltage equipment, Rimac and Camel Group for production of electric cars, NOA and Coosea Group for development of entertainment equipment with AI features, to name a few. China’s Norinco is about to start building wind farms near Senj in Croatia.
World Cup in Russia brought Croatia silver medal, but also unforgettable attention of the World. Unbelievable success for such a small nation was especially appreciated in China, and began numerous offers for cooperation in sports. The one that took the most of media care, late this year, was Chinese offer to build national football stadium in Croatia – in an investment project that is most surely going to get shaped during 2019, including the location of the future stadium and football academy.
While we are waiting for the final annual reports from the Ministry of Tourism for the year 2018, it is worthy to mention that 2017 brought 40% more Chinese tourists to Croatia than the previous year. Looking at the preliminary announcements, 2018 was equally successful in respect of year-on-year increase which will bring final number of arrivals from China (including Taiwan) very close to 500,000, making China the strongest source market of tourists coming from Asia into Croatia. In August 2018 (one month after concluded World Cup), at the peak of the summer season, the prices of roundtrip flights from China to Croatia almost doubled in comparison to average prices for that period in previous years.
And to came back to the beginning, CRBC and the Peljesac Bridge, project that opened the door of the most successful cooperation year between China and Croatia. On Christmas Eve 2018, Chinese ship Zhen Hua sailed into the Port of Ploce carrying technical equipment, huge crane, platforms and drills needed for the next phase of construction of the Peljesac Bridge. Project is mostly financed by the EU (85%), being build by Chinese constructor, and is going to achieve territorial continuity of the Republic of Croatia. This modern fairy tale incorporates strong symbolic components into this time of globalisation.
In 2019, one of the biggest political events in Croatia is going to be General 16+1 Summit, finally to take place in Croatia. The event will gather 17 Prime Ministers and bring additional attention from China together with dozens of huge Chinese investment enterprises, and hundreds of cooperation proposals. Establishment of direct flights, simplification of visa policies, development of trade policies – will most surely be amongst most mentioned topics in Croatia and China during 2019.