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Cold weather boosts warm ties

Ambassadors say winter tourism, sports offer an abundance of opportunities

By HOU CHENCHEN in Harbin | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-06 09:37

People are attracted to the China Harbin Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo in Harbin, Heilongjiang province on Jan 1, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

By saying on multiple occasions that ice and snow are as valuable as gold and silver, President Xi Jinping has turned winter's chill into a hot commodity.

During his visit to Northeast China's Heilongjiang province in September, Xi championed the idea of unlocking the winter economy's potential in sports and culture. Since then, a fresh surge of ice-and-snow enthusiasm has swept the country.

In fact, Heilongjiang has turned out to be the coolest spot in China now, and not just in temperature. With 6.62 million visits over the New Year holiday earlier this year, and the 2025 Asian Winter Games on the horizon, the province is riding a wave of success.

What's more, a global audience is catching on. Diplomats from 18 countries embarked on a five-day adventure in January, seeking ice-and-snow collaborations in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang.

Slovakia: Nation explores direct flights

Slovakia is considering direct, round-trip flights to China to enhance the bilateral exchange of tourists, as the 75th anniversary of its establishment of diplomatic ties with China approaches, said Peter Lizak, Slovakia's ambassador to China.

Expressing much enthusiasm about the potential of ice and snow tourism during his recent visit, Lizak drew parallels between the scenic beauty of Harbin and the mountains in Slovakia.

Emphasizing Slovakia's strengths in developing winter sports and the winter economy, he said the country has developed infrastructure for ice and snow tourism and sports.

The historical ties between Slovakia and Heilongjiang date back to the early 20th century, with Slovak immigrants, particularly railway engineers, settling in Northeast China during the construction of a major railway.

The Slovak consulate building in Harbin stands as a testament to the two countries' long history of exchanges, he said.

Lebanon: Winter Games offer platform for joint development

The Asian Winter Games are a platform for fostering exchanges, collaboration and joint development among Asian countries, said Milia Jabbour, Lebanon's ambassador to China.

"Chinese are doing an amazing job when it comes to infrastructure in this area," she said. "It demonstrates the rapid and high-quality development of the ice and snow industry."

Jabbour said that both countries are eager to develop the ice and snow tourism industry.

"Snow is on our national flag, carrying the meaning of clarity. The clean fresh air, endless snow mountains and the winter sun in Harbin reminded me of my home country," she said.

The picturesque villages of Lebanon, which is home to the highest peaks in the Middle East, offer a major tourism site for winter sports, with plenty of opportunities for collaboration with China, Jabbour said.

The Asian Winter Games will be held early next year in Harbin.

Attracting return visits will be crucial to the ice and snow industry's next stage of development, Jabbour said. She added that Lebanon is offering visas upon arrival to Chinese visitors in order to foster exchanges.

"During this trip, I find we can learn from each other," Jabbour said.

"As a new winter resort area, Heilongjiang can learn more from Lebanon and other countries to cultivate culture, identity and services around snow, while Lebanon can learn from Heilongjiang how to develop infrastructure and respect the ecosystem," she said.

"I will be looking forward to coming back, hopefully with a Lebanese delegation participating in the 2025 Asian Winter Games."

Slovenia: Sustainable sports facilities emphasized

Alenka Suhadolnik, Slovenia's ambassador to China, said the two nations can forge cooperation in winter sports, especially in developing sustainable sports facilities.

"It is important that the facilities are designed in a way that they can function all year round. Designers should consider usage during the other seasons in addition to winter. That would add a lot to the sustainability of the projects," Suhadolnik said.

Slovenia is a key destination for China's winter sports training, fostering bilateral ties.

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics marked the start of an enhanced friendship between the two nations, leading to extensive exchanges and cooperation in the field of winter sports. Slovenian architects played a crucial role in the construction of China's national ski jumping center for those Games, Suhadolnik said.

The center is designed to operate during all four seasons. In summer, for example, innovative methods are used to simulate winter skating conditions, catering to athletes' training and competition needs.

Slovenia showcased numerous products at the China International Import Expo in November, emphasizing high-tech solutions for winter sports.

Suhadolnik stressed the importance of sharing insights on the sustainability of the winter sports industry and winter tourism through collaborative exchanges in the future.

Austria: Good ties pave way for sharing of expertise

"There is already cooperation going on, but you can never cooperate enough," said Andreas Riecken, Austria's ambassador to China.

The Austrian Alps cover much of the country, with 7,500 kilometers of ski slopes that make Austria one of the world's top ski destinations.

With its prominent position in winter sports, Austria is ready to contribute to the forthcoming Asian Winter Games and share Austrian experience, expertise and passion, Riecken said.

"Austria can share know-how in the ice and snow industry, from skiing equipment to cable cars," he added.

With diplomatic ties thriving for over 50 years, Austria and China have deepened their links. China is Austria's third-largest global trading partner.

Riecken said that the positive economic relationship has paved the way for substantial investments and collaboration in the winter sports industry.

"It is impressive how fast China is catching up in developing its ice and snow infrastructure. This trip provided us with an opportunity to discuss cooperation potential and the future of ice, snow and winter sports in China, as well as in Heilongjiang," he said.

Switzerland: Trade relations bring positive outcomes

Juerg Burri, Switzerland's ambassador to China, said he looks forward to Swiss companies winning bids to provide goods and services for the 2025 Asian Winter Games in Harbin.

"In Harbin, when you see all the beautiful and well-nourished cows in the beautiful snowy landscapes, they may contribute to a Swiss-Chinese product, which is infant formula," Burri said.

Nestle, which arrived in Harbin in 1987, is the largest Swiss company of its kind in China, reflecting the long history of trade relations between the two countries.

Burri also pointed to the positive outcomes of Premier Li Qiang's recent visit to Switzerland and emphasized the potential upgrade of the decadeold free trade agreement.

He emphasized the need to develop all-season and sustainable tourism. "We have to invest in sustainable means of transportation, sustainable ways of managing hotels and sustainable ways of managing infrastructure," he said.

"Snow tourism spots should make sure that the tourists can experience an enriching day without using the car," Burri said.

He suggested that Harbin diversify its tourism with summer hiking, winter skiing and cultural events in rural areas for a vibrant experience.

Jiang Duo contributed to this story.

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