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Speech by H.E. Mr Hu Zhaoming, Chinese Ambassador to Croatia, at the meeting with MPs of Croatia-China Friendship Group of Croatian Parliament
Dear Mr Gordan Maras, Chairman of Croatia-China Friendship Group of Croatian Parliament,
Dear Members of Parliament,

It is my great honor to visit Croatian Sabor, the great and sacred place in Croatia. I heard a famous saying here that only God is above the Croatian Parliament. I'm very glad to have this opportunity to meet with distinguished Members of Parliament. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr Gordan Maras for inviting me and making considerate arrangements for today's event. I was told that Croatia-China Friendship Group was the largest group in the Parliament, which shows that China-Croatia friendship and cooperation have the widest support in Croatia. This gives me more confidence in the future of our relationship.

It's my 5th month in Croatia as Chinese Ambassador. In the last 4 months, I had opportunities visiting some counties and cities in Croatia, getting to know a lot of news friends. Croatia leaves a very good first impression on me.

In my view, Croatia is not only a beautiful land but also a country rich in culture and full of dynamics. From the coastal areas to the inland, the scenic attractions are everywhere. Some of my colleagues went to other countries for vacation. When they returned to the Embassy, they told me that Croatia was the best compared with those countries. In terms of culture, Croatia is located at the juncture linking the West and the East. It has not only absorbed the cultural merits from all directions, but also developed its own unique culture. 10 days ago, I visited Vucedol Culture Museum. According to the director of the Museum, Croatia was one of the most ancient cradles of European civilization and she was very proud of the long history of Croatian culture. Moreover, Croatia is a country full of dynamics, which is not only shown in sports but also in innovation. The Croatian-born great inventor Nikola Tesla is world-famous and today the electric car producer Rimac Automobile also enjoys a high reputation around the world. In short, beauty, culture and dynamics realize a perfect and harmonious blend in Croatia. I dare say, if it is not the only one in the world, it must be one of the very few of this kind.

Dear friends,

Although China, my home country, is different in many ways from Croatia, it is also a beautiful country with long history and great creations. Last week, the 41st session of World Heritage Committee held in Poland adopted two Croatian sites to the UNESCO's world heritage list. China also had two sites added to this list. So far, altogether, China has 52 world heritage sites. In terms of civilization, China is the only one of the four great ancient civilizations which is not interrupted. Today, Chinese people who have received basic education can read ancient books written one or two thousand years ago. I once visited a museum in a western province of China and saw a bronze ware of more than 3,000 years ago with 2 Chinese characters engraved on it, which is believed to be the earliest appearance of the name of China. China is also a country good at innovations. China has four major ancient inventions, namely gunpowder, paper making, printing technique and compass, which made tremendous contribution to the human progress. Not long ago, some young foreigners living in China selected the new four major inventions of China, namely, high-speed railway, Alipay (or Chinese Paypal), shared bicycles and online shopping. This reflects the vitality of China's economy and society.

China and Croatia are thousands of miles away from each other and with few overlaps in history. However, today's world is getting smaller and the distance between our two countries is only 10-hour's flight. 25 years ago, China and Croatia formally established diplomatic relations. Since then, China and Croatia becomes development partners and friends on international and regional affairs. In the last 25 years, the bilateral relationship has come a long way. In 2005, China and Croatia established Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership. Croatia is the first to establish such relationship with China among South-Eastern European countries. In 2016, the trade volume between our two countries reached 1.2 billion US dollars with an increase of nearly 30 times in 25 years. Last year, the number of Chinese tourists to Croatia passed 100,000 for the first time.

We are very happy for these achievements. However, there are huge potentials yet to be tapped, especially the bilateral economic and trade cooperation is far from the height it ought to be. For example, in 2016, the trade volume between China and Croatia accounted for less than 0.2% of that between China and Europe; Chinese tourists to Croatia took only about 0.7% of those from China to EU. According to some projections, in the next 5 years, China will import goods equivalent to 8 trillion US dollars; China's outbound investment will reach 750 billion US dollars and the Chinese tourists going abroad will reach 700 million. If Croatia takes up only 0.5% of the above figures, then it means 40 billion US dollars of export by Croatia, 3.75 billion US dollars of investment and 3.5 million tourists from China to Croatia.

Now, how can we realize these great potentials? I believe that we can do better in the following ways.

Firstly, stronger political willingness. Further development of China-Croatia relations depend largely on the determination of our political leaders, if they are keen to improve our relations willing and invest more political resources into it. From Chinese side, we regard Croatia as the key country in South-East Europe and a friend within EU. We are willing to strengthen all-round cooperation with Croatia. In October 2015, during the visit of Croatian President Grabar-Kitarović to China, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that both countries should view and handle our bilateral relations from a strategic height and long-term perspective. We hope that Croatian side share the same understanding and enthusiasm as China in order to promote the bilateral relations up to a new level. Nowadays, the gravity of world economy is shifting gradually towards the East. Last year, China and the US contributed 50% of the world's economic growth and China alone contributed almost 35%. Many countries regard China as new opportunities for development. In 2014, China and Germany established the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. In 2016, Chinese-German trade volume reached 170 billion Euro. For the first time, China took the place of the US as the largest trade partner of Germany. Croatia's neighboring countries, like Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia, are all vigorously strengthening cooperation with China. I would say, opportunities in front of us are huge, but they are not there waiting for us, or coming to us automatically. We need to go forward to seize them and turn them into realities of better cooperation between our two countries.

Secondly, more practical cooperation. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations 25 years ago, China and Croatia signed a number of agreements and MoUs on cooperation, but some were not well implemented. In other words, we might have been talking too much and doing too little. There are different reasons for that. Some are political--the changes of government might have caused delays; some are relating to laws and regulations--Croatia is making a series of changes and amendments to its laws and regulations according to EU requirements. Entrepreneurs and investors are often at a loss on getting to know these new laws and regulations. There are some other factors like low efficiency. It is not realistic to expect every seed to blossom and bear fruit. But the foundation of China-Croatia relations is composed of every building block and each action of cooperation adds to the strength of our bilateral relations. Chinese former leader Deng Xiaoping once made a requirement for Shanghai city to make changes every year and realize great changes in three years. The logic behind that is, if you keep doing real things each year, it will accumulate as big achievements in 3 years. This is what happened to Shanghai. In 1990, the GDP of Shanghai was less than 1/7 of that of Hong Kong; but in 2016, the GDP of Shanghai was almost 130% of that of Hong Kong. I do hope that, through our joint efforts, especially by promoting practical cooperation, what happened to Shanghai will happen to China-Croatia relations.

Thirdly, better use of the new platforms. We should make a good use of our bilateral channels and also some other cooperation platforms. In my view, there are two platforms which have the most prominent future. The first one is ''One Belt One Road Initiative''; the other is ''16+1 cooperation''. The Belt and Road Initiative was initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping personally. It is the renaissance of the old Silk Road .Or you can call it the new Silk Road. In last May, the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in Beijing. The current Croatian Foreign Minister and then-State Secretary, was the head of the Croatian delegation to the Forum. The Forum reached many fruits. Among others, President Xi Jinping announced that China would contribute an additional 100 billion RMB to the Silk Road Fund and encourage Chinese financial institutions to conduct overseas RMB fund business with an estimated amount of 300 billion RMB. Croatia has a special position on the One Belt One Road platform. It is not only the hometown of Marco Polo, but also the converging point of the maritime and continental Silk Road. Croatia can benefit a lot from participating One Belt One Road construction.

''16+1 cooperation'' is the platform of cooperation between China and the 16 Central and Eastern European countries. This year marks the 5th anniversary of its establishment. Over the past 5 years, the "16+1 cooperation'' has achieved great progress. Taking the Czech Republic as an example: by the end of 2013, Chinese investment in Czech was less than 300 million US dollars. By the end of last year, it increased to 2.7 billion US dollars; from September 2015 till now, China has opened 3 direct flights to Czech and the number of Chinese tourists to Czech increases 30% annually and exceeded 350,000 in 2016. Chinese tourists spend a lot when they are traveling abroad. In 2014, they spent as much as British tourists, whose per capita GDP was 7 times of China. In 2015, it was the same as Denmark tourists, whose per capita GDP was 10 times of China.

Croatia is one of the participants of ''16+1 cooperation''. Last November, just a few days after inauguration as new Prime Minister, H.E. Mr Plenkovic went to Riga to attend the 16+1 Summit there, which reflected the active support of Croatia to ''16+1 cooperation''. We expect Croatia to play a bigger role on the ''16+1 '' platform, by hosting 16+1 Tourism Ministers' Meeting as soon as possible, by taking the lead to organize the 16+1 association for small and medium-sized enterprises, etc. 

Fourthly, better conditions and environment for cooperation. China-Croatia cooperation has laid solid foundation and is accelerating. According to the statistics, Chinese investment to Croatia has been increasing rapidly since the second half of last year. In less than one year, Chinese investment to Croatia exceeds 150 million Euro. The number of Chinese tourists to Croatia is also increasing very fast. According to Croatian Ministry of Tourism, in the first half of this year, the increase rate exceeded 60%. We need to make joint efforts to keep this good momentum. Chinese companies are good at infrastructure construction. The 55-km-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge to be completed soon is the longest cross-sea bridge in the world and it is 22 times longer than the Pelješac Bridge of Croatia. It is said that about 50% of the bridges of the whole world were built by Chinese companies. I hope that our two countries can strengthen cooperation in construction of roads, railways, bridges, ports etc. We expect Croatia to provide better conditions and more facilities for Chinese investment. The visa issue is an old problem. Chinese investors have to wait for 10 working days to get Croatian visa, while it takes only 2 working days for Croatian citizens to get a Chinese visa. We do hope that Croatian could work out a new visa policy for Chinese citizens.

Better exchanges of culture and education are very important for bilateral cooperation. Chinese side wishes to open a Culture Center in Croatia for the better understanding between our two countries. We also hope that Croatia will strengthen academic studies on China. In China, the studies on ''16+1 cooperation'' of the participating countries are thriving. However, as far as I know, Croatia does not have an institution specialized in China, nor there is any university that has set up Chinese as a Major. We hope Croatia side to provide continuous support for Confucius Institute and encourage more primary and middle schools to take Chinese as first or second foreign language in order to facilitate exchanges between young generations of our two countries.

Last but not the least, more exchanges of governance ideas. On the first day President Xi Jinping was elected as top leader of China, he made a solemn promise that ''People's wish for a good life is our goal". The key message is to enable the wider public to enjoy the fruits of economic and social development. Poverty alleviation is one thing President Xi emphasizes very much. In the past 30 years, 700 million of Chinese people were lifted out of poverty, of which 55 million were done in the past 4 years. The goal of the government is to eliminate poverty completely and achieve all-round well-off society by 2020, that's one year ahead of 100 anniversary of the establishment of Chinese Communist Party. Total eradication of poverty reflects President Xi's philosophy of people-centered development. This is also the guiding principle of Chinese diplomacy in the new era. My understanding is that China-Croatia relations need to serve the interests of the wider public. We hope more people could benefit from the China-Croatia friendship and cooperation. In line with this, I made my first official trip out of Zagreb to the eastern part of Croatia. About 10 days ago, I visited Osijek-Baranja County and Vukovar-Srijem County. Through this visit, I realized that the future of Croatia lied in its eastern part. Only with further development of this area, can the development of Croatia be more balanced and sustainable. We will encourage more Chinese investment to go there and support its development.

Dear friends,

After 25 years of development, China-Croatia relations are now standing at the new starting point and facing new historical opportunities. To further promote the development of China-Croatia relations and to benefit the wider public of our two countries, we need stronger support from people of all circles, including from Members of Parliament present today. Exchanges between Parliaments are very important components of China-Croatia relationship. I hope Members of Parliament of Croatia could visit China at your convenient time to witness latest development of China and to explore great potentials for cooperation between our two countries. Let us work together to create a better future for China-Croatia relationship!

Thank you very much.


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