Top Croatian envoy to Korea said tourism and education have defined the last 20 years of bilateral relations between Seoul and Zagreb and hopes investment and trade will replace them.
"I'd like to see many more exchanges on the economic side," Ambassador Mira Martinec said during an interview with The Korea Times, Wednesday, in Seoul.
She covers her duties from Tokyo, because a Croatian embassy is yet to be opened in Seoul.
Korea and Croatia began diplomatic relations in 1992. Most developments relate to tourism where Croatia has witnessed a modest growth in the number of Korean tourists, she said. In education, universities have founded partnerships for exchanging students and faculty members.
The ambassador agreed the need for a full-fledged embassy in Seoul to boost trade and investment, and said that Seoul is on the priority list for foreign missions to open.
A permanent mission in Seoul has long been a dream for Croatia, which has been struggling financially, especially since 2008 when the global financial crisis hit.
Tourism and service sectors, two strong pillars of the economy, suffered most. Croatia wants to attract Korean investment in logistics, for the country has big ports that she thinks Korean companies can benefit from.
"(From Croatia), goods can go to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and other places."
According to the Korean Embassy in Zagreb, bilateral trade volume last year was approximately $150 million with a 142-million-dollar trade surplus on the Korean side. Korean exporting goods include automobiles, machineries and electronic appliances, while it imports turbojets, vessels and other travel goods.
Although trade volume decreased over the last five years, the ambassador is positive that it will quickly recover once Croatia joins the European Union next year. "We will have many benefits. And it will be easy to establish trade links with other countries."
Out of 27 member states, 20 have so far ratified Croatia's membership.
Ambassador Martinec said the full membership will also guarantee her nation's struggling economy bigger and more stable development assistance. "The EU has funds to help its members," Bulgaria and Romania are currently receiving assistance now, she added.
This might explain recent oppositions to Croatia's membership. For example, Germany voiced against Croatia's EU membership recently, and that made President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic fly to Brussels and Berlin. "There's always an opposite opinion," she said. "We're doing our homework, so everything will go well."
Martinec thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Seoul for organizing ADRIA Arts Festival last week, a series of musical events celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
The Korean government invited a classical music ensemble and a folk music dance team from Croatia, which was very well received.
Martinec defends Gotovina, Markac
After a recent outcry erupted in Serbia regarding the acquittal of two Croatian generals by the United Nations warcrimes tribunal in The Hague, the ambassador defended the court's decision.
General Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were first convicted in 2011 of conspiring to drive Serbs out of Croatia's Krajina region. In the early 1990s when Yugoslavia disintegrated, the Serbs claimed their own small state in Krajina.
But in 1995 the Croatian army took most of it back, forcing some 200,000 Serbs to flee, most of which never returned. On Nov. 16, the two were found not guilty by the court.
"We (the Croatian government) had a very clear position from the beginning.
We believe, in line with the Hague ruling, that our generals are not guilty," she said.
"It doesn't mean that the crimes didn't happen. There's no evidence that they were involved."
But Serbians are outraged, describing the decision as political one made prior to Croatia's EU membership.