Sunday, 11 October 2020

Pompeo in Dubrovnik Warns Croatia Against Close Ties With China

October the 11th, 2020 - Mike Pompeo in Dubrovnik attracted a lot of media attention, and the former head of the CIA had a clear message to Croatia when it comes to doing business with the Chinese - Be careful.

As Novac/David Lekaj writes, "Open your eyes when doing business with China," was the message of the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, who received his military training at the prestigious West Point and his doctorate in law from Harvard.

Mike Pompeo in Dubrovnik explained the geopolitical dangers and pitfalls of cooperation with China in great detail as part of the "17 + 1" initiative. His statement that "the Chinese just want to take money from Croatia" surprised the Croatian public, considering that newspaper columns have been filled with articles about Chinese investments in various projects within the country for several years. However, what was happening far from the radar of the Croatian public was the presentation of Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma to Chinese businessmen at the "Green Forum" on Tuesday (September the 29th) when he uttered almost the same words as Pompeo in Dubrovnik. All in all, we should encourage our government to seriously consider Croatia's further role in the "17 + 1" initiative.

What has been achieved from the announced Chinese investments in Croatia? Well almost nothing. In the absence of the realisation of the promised investments, Peljesac Bridge often gets referred to as a Chinese investment, although it isn't. Peljesac Bridge is an investment by the Croatian Government, mostly financed by European Union (EU) funds. The Chinese simply picked up money to carry out the work. The then Chinese ambassador in Zagreb, Hu Zhaoming, in the midst of some strong media lobbying for Chinese companies, publicly promised that the money that the Chinese state-owned company would receive for doing the work on Peljesac Bridge would be invested in Croatia. As soon as the transfer was made, the Chinese directed all the money to the Italian Port of Trieste, and Ambassador Hu Zhaoming left Croatia for half a term, and was promoted to the high position of Director of the Information and Communication Office of the Central Liaison Department at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Such a modus operandi was pointed out by Pompeo in Dubrovnik. As were China's combinatorics through the "17 + 1" initiative, whereby China has networked the transition countries of Europe in order for Chinese companies to gain initial business experience that they currently lack to enter the ''game'' with developed EU countries. In fact, the "17 + 1" initiative brings together the "b" and "c" leagues of European countries according to Chinese criteria. In all this, Croatia hasn't achieved any economic interest and this quite legitimately calls into question the further membership of Croatia in such an organisation from which only China benefits.

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma appealed to Chinese corporations at the Green Forum on Tuesday (September the 29th) to strive to be at the service of the world to restore China's degraded image, rather than trying to conquer the global market. In addition, Ma told Chinese businessmen that they should stop considering globalisation a mere effort to conquer the global market and nothing more. Instead, they should properly develop their ability to provide quality products and services, the tycoon noted.

In other words, China’s image is currently and expectedly dismal, as Chinese companies are the world’s biggest plagiarists, unscrupulously using other people’s patents and intellectual property. But you don't have to go to China to understand what Jack Ma is talking about, just visit the Smederevo steel plant or the Bor mine in neighbouring Serbia, which taken over by the Chinese, and after talking to the locals there it will be clear what environmental issues are at stake in that part of Serbia. If China doesn't finally make a real turnaround, if it doesn't become a reliable country that instills confidence in others, that doesn't "mask" things that can endanger human lives around the world (as it did at the beginning of the current coronavirus pandemic), then such a China quite simply cannot expect the rest of the world to harbour decent relations with it, instead, the world will continue to experience China as it did before - the global cradle of cheap copies.

The harsh criticism of the Chinese Embassy in Zagreb on the statements of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Dubrovnik was obviously wrongly addressed, as Pompeo spoke in Dubrovnik almost in the same tone as Jack Ma did just a few days ago in China.

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Friday, 2 October 2020

Pompeo: Croatians will Soon be able to Travel to US Without Visas

ZAGREB, Oct 2, 2020 - Croatian citizens will soon be able to travel to the US without visas, State Secretary Mike Pompeo told Hina on Friday during his visit to the southern coastal city of Dubrovnik.

The abolishment of visas for the Croatians can be expected in the coming months.

Asked when Croatia and the US would sign the Visa Waiver Program, Pompeo said he hoped this would happen very soon, in the coming months. He stopped short of specifying the exact date.

There is still some paperwork to be done, administrative things, some of which should be done by us and some are up to the Croatian leadership. We have discussed them with Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman, and I am sure we will discuss this matter with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, he added.

Pompeo admitted that the visa regime and double taxation made doing business for Croatian entrepreneurs in the US more difficult. They are also obstacles for US investment in Croatia, he said.

I believe the double taxation convention will be concluded. We can now exchange the drafts, which is a very good sign, Pompeo told Hina.

On Wednesday, the Croatian government initiated the procedure for the conclusion of this convention.

Pompeo also commented on the investment climate in Croatia and Europe, saying that whenever US officials come to Europe and places where they know they share the same values of fair market competition, it does not help to see the Chinese Communist Party being treated differently from a European or American company. This puts people off from investing their capital in Croatia, Pompeo said.

I am optimistic that things will improve in that regard. We want to be here, we want to be active, he concluded.

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Friday, 2 October 2020

Pompeo Arrives in Dubrovnik, Negative for Coronavirus

ZAGREB, Oct 2, 2020 - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the press in Dubrovnik on Friday that he was negative for coronavirus and that he felt great at the start of a day-long visit to Croatia.

Pompeo arrived at Dubrovnik Airport from Italy, which he had officially visited as part of a European tour.

After US President Donald Trump said he was positive for coronavirus, Pompeo and his wife were tested on the plane and both are negative. Pompeo and Trump last met in mid-September.

In Dubrovnik's Old Town, he was met by Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman.

They visited the Ron Brown Memorial Centre, dedicated to the US trade secretary who was killed, together with a whole 34-person delegation, when their plane crashed near Dubrovnik Airport in 1996.

Pompeo is the highest US official in the Trump administration to visit Croatia. In Dubrovnik, he is also due to meet with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Defence Minister Mario Banozic.

The secretary of state might announce today that, after 30 years, Croatian nationals will no longer need a visa to enter the US. US Ambassador Robert Kohorst said on Tuesday he had no official report yet that the requirement of less than 3% of rejected applications had been met, but that he was very optimistic.

Croatian leaders and Pompeo will also discuss the revocation of double taxation between the two countries as well as Croatia's purchase of US fighter jets. The US has offered new F-16s. Offers have also been submitted by Israel, Sweden and France.

The Dubrovnik meeting will also address an LNG terminal off Krk island and the 5G network. The US is worried about the spread of China's influence and Huawei's participation in the building of the 5G network in the world.

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Thursday, 1 October 2020

Mike Pompeo and Croatian Senior Officials to Meet in Dubrovnik for Talks on F-16 and Visas

ZAGREB, Oct 1, 2020 - The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will stop in Dubrovnik on Friday as part of his European tour, and he will be received by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic Radman, and a few more senior officials.

The abolishment of visas for the Croatians traveling to the USA, Croatia's plan to purchase fighter jets, the LNG terminal off Krk, and Croatia's plans to introduce 5G network are likely to be some of the topics between Pompeo, who is the highest U.S. official to visit Croatia since the start of the Donald Trump presidency in 2016, and his hosts in Dubrovnik.

"The leaders will discuss opportunities for closer cooperation between the United States and Croatia in key areas of mutual concern, including defense cooperation, the growing U.S.-Croatia investment relationship, and Croatia’s strong efforts to advance Western Balkan integration," reads the statement on the website of the US State Department.

U.S. Visa Waiver Programme

After three decades of unsuccessful attempts to get the visa requirements for Croatian travelers to the USA abolished, Mike Pompeo is expected to announce in Dubrovnik that Croatia has met the last criterion to be added to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and that is that refusal rate considering the rejected visa applications has fallen below 3%.

Currently, all but four EU member states are within the VWP. Apart from Croatia, those are Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania. 

The VWP is a program of the U.S. federal government that allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa.

On Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Grlic Radman told the HRT broadcaster that he expected a "positive decision" by the USA in the months ahead about waiving visas for Croatian nationals.

"Various bodies in the US decide on that, with support from the American embassy. I think we can expect a positive decision in the months ahead," the minister said.

U.S. Ambassador to Zagreb, Robert Kohorst, has said recently that he is optimistic about the VWP for Croatia, however, he did not want to specify when the visa requirements could be abolished for the Croatians.

Procurement of 12 multipurpose fighter jets

The Croatian Defence Ministry in early September received bids for the procurement of 12 multipurpose fighter jets from Sweden, the USA, France, and Israel. Sweden has offered new Gripen C/D jets, the USA new F-16 block 70 jets, France used Rafale jets, and Israel used F-16 block 30 aircraft.

US Ambassador Robert Kohorst said on Wednesday that the aircraft offered by his country was an excellent plane and that his country hoped the procurement process would go in his country's favor.

When this topic is discussed, it is often mentioned that over recent years, Washington has donated military equipment, estimated at several hundred million dollars, to Croatia.

Croatia's interdepartmental commission will recommend the best bid by December 12.

Mike Pompeo and Defence Minister Mario Banozic are due to consider this topic.

5G network

During his European tour which started on 27 September, Pompeo first visited Greece and then Italy and the Holy See from where he is due to arrive in Dubrovnik.

International media have reported that while in Rome he delivered "warning to Italy over China's economic influence and 5G."

Pompeo "described Chinese mobile telecoms technology as a threat to Italy’s national security and the privacy of its citizens," Reuters reported.

"The United States also urges the Italian government to consider carefully the risks to its national security and the privacy of its citizens presented by technology companies with ties to the Chinese Community Party," he was quoted as saying.

The USA is seen to be mounting pressure on European countries not to use Huawei technology in the 5G networks.

Croatia plans to develop 5G networks and the first stage is to introduce this technology in a few cities: Osijek, Bjelovar, Karlovac, and Rijeka.

Croatia and China have stepped up their bilateral cooperation over the last few years, and the current biggest infrastructure project in Croatia -- the construction of Peljesac Bridge -- is being implemented by Chinese builders.

Croatia is one of the members of the China+16 platform for the cooperation between Beijing and central and east European countries.

 Therefore, it will be no surprise if  Mike Pompeo delivers similar warnings to Croatia as he did to Italy.

The Andrej Plenkovic government on Wednesday launched procedures to conclude the Convention between Croatia and the USA for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

This convention is likely to be one of the topics of the Dubrovnik talks.

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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

FM Says Visas for the US to be Waived in Months Ahead

ZAGREB, Sept 30, 2020 - Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said on Wednesday he expected a "positive decision" by the US in the months ahead about waiving visas for the US  for Croatian nationals.

"Various bodies in the US decide on that, with support from the American embassy. I think we can expect a positive decision in the months ahead," the minister told the public broadcaster two days before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in Croatia.

In order for visas to be waived, Croatia must have less than 3% of applications rejected. In the EU, only Croatian, Cypriot, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals need a visa to enter the US.

US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst said on Tuesday he still had no official report on the meeting of that requirement but that he was very optimistic.

Croatian state leaders and Pompeo will meet in Dubrovnik and are also due to discuss the revocation of double taxation between the two countries.

"Today the government will make a decision. We'll show it to Secretary of State Pompeo. An evaluation is necessary also on their side and that will contribute to the legal certainty of taxpayers, notably those who have dual citizenship," said Grlic Radman.

"Mechanisms for cooperation between the US and Croatian tax authorities will also be established," he announced.

Croatian state leaders and Pompeo will also talk about the purchase of F-16 fighter jets.

"There is a call for bids, there is a procedure and deadlines," Grlic Radman said, adding that "the US interest is natural, just as the interests of the other competing states."

Croatia is buying 12 fighter jets. Offers have been submitted by the US, Sweden, France, and Israel.

In Dubrovnik, Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Grlic Radman, and Defence Minister Mario Banozic.

Grlic Radman said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was expected to visit Croatia by year's end for the opening of the embassy on a new location.

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Friday, 14 February 2020

USA Ambassador Kohorst Clarifies 2020 Croatian Visa Waiver (VIDEO INTERVIEW)

According to Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman, the United States (USA) planned to waive visas for Croatian citizens by the end of 2020 when the two countries sign a Double Taxation Treaty. While US Ambassador Robert Kohorst backed the 2020 timeline in yesterday's interview, he also emphasized that Croatia has not yet met all the conditions. And an inside source has confirmed that a Double Taxation Treaty is still 3 to 4 years away.

USA Visa Waiver Contingent on Refusal Rate Reduction: UPDATE

In an interview with Paul Bradbury of Total Croatia News yesterday, February 19, 2020; US Ambassador Robert Kohorst commented on Grlić Radman's claim that Croatia has fulfilled the conditions for the visa waiver program. 

"We expect that there is a very good chance that Croatia will qualify for the Visa Waiver Program in 2020, but there are some things that need to be completed yet. Both, you get the refusal rate below 3%, which is calculated on September 30. So, it's starting to look like they'll achieve that goal, but it's still subject to what happens in terms of people applying for visas," he explained.

"The second one is that there is about four or five documents that need to be with the Department of Homeland Security. Those enrollment processes: Croatia is working hard on them. We expect them to be completed but they are not done yet. So, he (Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman) wasn't wrong in terms of expecting to get it done, but there is still some work to be done," he concluded.

USA Croatia Double Taxation Treaty Not Expected in 2020: UPDATE

According to an inside source, the USA Croatia Double Taxation Treaty will not be signed in 2020 and is likely 3 to 4 years away under the best circumstances. A Double Taxation Treaty portfolio has not yet been created by the US Treasury Department. After the portfolio has been created, it is a 2 year process to prepare the DTT Treaty for signature by both countries. Then it is sent to the US Senate for approval.

There are currently 30 countries ahead of Croatia on the USA DTT priority list.

Croatia Foreign Minister Claimed Visa Waivers, Double Taxation Treaty for 2020

"We have fulfilled all (conditions) and this is now just a matter of the exact time. It is in the interest of both Croatian and American businessmen," Grlić Radman told reporters on February 14, 2020. He had met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of the start of the Munich Security Conference, the world's leading forum for discussing international security policy.

Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus are currently the only EU members for which the US has not yet waived visas. Citizens of Poland were exempted from the United States visa requirement at the end of 2019 according to Index on February 14, 2020.

After the meeting with Pompeo, Grlić Radman had said that the visa waivers and double taxation agreement would be implemented by the end of this year. 

Croatia Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Croatia and the US are NATO allies and cooperate closely in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Poland and the Baltic States.

Asked if Croatia, like the US, would withdraw its forces from Afghanistan; the minister replied that Zagreb would coordinate an eventual troop withdrawal with Washington.

"It is a matter for the two countries' defense ministries, but we have reaffirmed that we will coordinate our actions. Croatia defends its interests through NATO and UN membership," he added.

Kiowa Helicopter Crash Discussed With Pompeo

Without going into detail, he indicated that he had spoken with Pompeo briefly about the acquisition of fighter jets and the recent Kiowa helicopter crash near Zablace. The USA had donated that aircraft to Croatia.

Grlić Radman will also meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later on Friday.

"Croatia insists on respect for international law ... and we are doing everything we can to urge Iran to strictly adhere to the nuclear deal," said the senior Croatian diplomat, the country which currently holds the six-month EU presidency.

Follow our Politics page to keep updated on the upcoming USA visa requirement waiver for Croatian citizens.