View on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Croatia: President of CSEBA
18 Apr 2019


On April 10, 2019, Mario Rendulic, President of Chinese Southeast European Business Association (CSEBA), also member of Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce, received an interview by N1 Television. 



Mr. Mario expressed his views on Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Croatia and the promotion of cooperation between China and Croatia in the fields of transportation, ports and tourism. The full text is as follows:


Journalist: We welcome Mario Rendulic, President of Chinese Southeast European Business Association. Welcome.


Mario: Good day, thank you for having me here.


Journalist: You have a lot of experience with China. First I would like you to comment on what happened today. 6 contracts have been signed between Croatia and China. Both sides have said that this means new momentum in economic cooperation.


Mario: When Chinese side offers contracts or memorandums to sign, especially if it is related to the government, then this is definitely an important matter. It puts a new light on cooperation between China and Croatia.


Journalist: Infrastructure projects have been especially emphasised, for example the Peljesac Bridge where Chinese company is the main contractor. However, now we have heard that Chinese side is also interested in these kind of projects as an investing side, like in a railway construction project Rijeka-Zagreb that could be offered for concession for a period of 50 years.      


Mario: First of all, this is a big breakthrough for Croatian government, which showed that there could be several different models for investments in Croatia. For example Rijeka- Zagreb railway line, to Budapest, would definitely be of interest for China, since it would be considered as further development of the New Silk Road, the initiative that we have heard a lot about these days. Concession would be a good model since European Funds are not so large or yielding, while Chinese could take the role of investors in this case. This would be a new financing model in Croatia that we should welcome.


Journalist: How do you comment the situation about Uljanik Shipyard, whether or not there is currently an interest there from big Chinese shipyards? We know that Chinese shipyards have survived difficult times in the market, unlike European ones, and were able to adapt to new market conditions.


Mario: China is a large country, large market. They were able to adapt quickly to any change in the market, and they have recognized these changes in time. Shipbuilding is now much different industry than it was years back, especially for Croatian shipyards that are still using technologies and business models the same way as they did 27 or 30 years ago. When talking about big Chinese shipyards, they have been familiar with the situation in Croatia since 5 years ago. Our association, CSEBA has been going to China and presenting Croatian shipyards. Big Chinese shipyards have shown interest in cooperation and I am sure that in this case Croatian Minister of Transport is going to share the news when any kind of agreement with the Chinese side will be reached.


Journalist: When talking about seaports, you have been directly involved in the investment process in the Zadar Port. We also have another major port, the Port of Rijeka.


Mario: When talking about Rijeka Port, it already has some cooperation with China, more specifically container terminal and Chinese COSCO, the world’s biggest shipping company, and also the owner of several European ports. They are already strongly present in the European market, and Rijeka could be interesting for them. In the Zadar Port, Croatian government is currently building the new container terminal but with limited capacity. In the Zadar Port, major shareholders are Chinese, and with international consultants they are currently planning further investments, to most effectively use the potentials of the Zadar Port. We believe Zadar Port will specialize in the bulk cargo and grains since it already has access to these facilities and direct access to the highway. Zadar Port definitely has a bright future, and we believe Chinese owners will increase these capacities very soon.


Journalist: There were certain problems during the takeover of the Zadar Port. Has this shaken the confidence of Chinese investors?


Mario: The takeover process definitely wasn’t easy, there were some obstructions and legal procedures. Moreover, there were also changes in the Chinese monetary policy that made limitations to Chinese investors and made it more difficult for them to make international investments. This is something that people in Croatia don’t know. It isn’t easy for Chinese investors to make payments abroad, it is necessary that each investment has a Chinese government support. In the end, we were successful, and in time. Chinese investors were not discouraged, and we can see that many new potential investors have come here to Croatia in the company of Chinese Prime Minister. All that PM Li Keqiang has said show that Chinese offer deep and strong cooperation, and that we will be able to see concrete results by the end of this year.


Journalist: China has already entered and is present in Serbia for quite some time now. They are not members of the European Union, unlike us. Do you expect some problems in that regard, is the EU going to see negatively Croatia’s cooperation with China? 


Mario: We can look at this situation from another angle. Public should know that the most of Chinese investments into Europe have gone to Germany and France. Investments to Serbia and Montenegro are only a small percentage of Chinese investments in Europe. European Union currently controls and limits the development of its smaller members, especially to the east of Europe, mostly for its internal interests.   


Journalist: Yes, quite hypocritical on their part. Chancellor Merkel even said that China is only TRYING to revitalise the ancient Silk Road.  


Mario: However, you should know that the final destination, or railway line, of that Silk Road is actually in Germany. When looking at the main corridor from China to Europe, it starts in Chongqing, China, goes through Kazakhstan and Russia, and finally ends in Germany. So, Germany definitely has the strongest interest in rebuilding of this Silk Road, also considering that Germany is the biggest trade partner of China within Europe. France also took many loans from China recently. We should consider this, and think for ourselves, consider what is good for us. I am sure, Croatian government that made big improvements in bilateral relations with China, especially during the PM Plenkovic term, will use the opportunity when Croatia will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and create space for itself to cooperate strongly with China and attract more Chinese investments. 


Journalist: This would definitely be good for protection of our national interests, not only thinking about European interests.


Mario: You could see Italy recently, media was covering it closely. Italy criticised this European practice and decided to make a step in another direction by joining the Silk Road initiative, which will be an impressive thing.   


Journalist: You personally have been very active in rebuilding this new Silk Road, helping in establishing cooperation with China, especially in tourism. Tourism is showing to be very interesting to Chinese, there is over 250,000 of arrivals last year from China, and expecting to have over 300,000 this year.


Mario: Over 5 years ago, CSEBA has started with the tourism promotion in China. We participated in many important tourism conferences and expos. We have made over 4,000 hours of video materials about Croatia that we have showed in China, since there was no suitable promotion materials that would be adequate for Chinese market. We are constant participants and partners at many of these events, somewhere independently, and somewhere in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Croatian Embassy in Beijing. We have established successful cooperation and this brought great results since, when we have started, only 60,000 Chinese tourists were visiting Croatia, and now there is 250,000. At this time, with our Chinese partners, we are working on development projects in the medical tourism sector. This would bring not only traditional tourists that come during summer months, but also come throughout the year. Chinese tourists are this kind of travellers that enjoy travelling before and after the summer months, and we think this is a very good opportunity since many hotels in Croatia are empty outside the high season.


Journalist: I suppose you are not talking about the seaside destinations here, since you have made some steps in bringing investments to the continental part of Croatia.


Mario: Central Croatia, Krapina-Zagorje Region, more specifically Krapinske Spa and Kumrovec Town are interesting locations for Chinese investments. Media have already shown our activities there, where investors plan to purchase the old Political School building in Kumrovec. We are talking about developing additional hotel capacities, while in Krapinske Spa we want to further develop medical and health tourism facilities and hotel capacities specialised in these kind of services. Krapinske Spa Town has 4 specialised hospitals which is very rare for a town of such small size, extremely convenient, and also the Spa thermal waters. Investors have recognised this, and investment projects are being finalized.     


Journalist: How are Chinese handling with Croatian bureaucracy?


Mario: This is an ongoing process…


Journalist: Probably in China is much easier and more simple? We imagine Chinese people as hardworking people that solve things much faster.


Mario: This is true on one side. Also, legal procedures are a bit different in China. Procedures for getting building permits are simpler in China, while in Croatia procedures take longer. However, I see Croatian government taking steps into the right direction. I would not say that bureaucracy is slow in Croatia, since most of the paperwork that we need to do here, we actually get quite fast. Must faster than it was 15 years ago here.


Journalist: I also need to ask you about two more sectors, IT industry and agriculture, two very different sectors. Yesterday we saw signing of memorandum of cooperation in the IT industry. Agriculture on the other hand, it seems that it will be difficult to achieve significant exports to China in that sector.


Mario: 4 years ago, CSEBA signed cooperation agreement with China Agriculture University, and presented them our sorts of wheat grains that could grow in China. This year, China sent a few delegations that checked food producers and companies in Croatia. Chinese authority for food import is currently working of permits and certificates for some of our products, and we can say that the interest is huge. East Croatia, Slavonia, has capabilities to produce huge amounts of healthy food, and our delegations from China can not believe that Croatia is not using this potential. Healthy food products are very popular in China currently, prices are high. Consumers are willing to spent a lot even with high transport costs. When we go to China, we always bring authentic Croatian products, and Chinese love it a lot.


About IT sector, many people are looking at Huawei, but there are dozens of other Chinese brands that are capable to become successful worldwide. Internet technology and fast networks are developing fast in China. Many Chinese companies are willing to start production in Europe using Chinese technology, which would be a significant step forward. This Summit 16+1 has brought much attention to us now from China, and we should be glad for all the cooperation that is starting now, and that there will also be much opportunities for cooperation even after the Summit. 


Journalist: Summit starts tomorrow, there will be plenty of opportunities, B2B meetings. Thank you for this interview, and we will have time to analyse after all finishes.