Sino-Czech ties get boost as Xi makes first visit to Prague

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Czech President Milos Zeman at the Czech President's residence Lany Chateau near Prague, on March 28, 2016.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Czech President Milos Zeman at the Czech President's residence Lany Chateau near Prague, on March 28, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

PRAGUE • Chinese President Xi Jinping began a two-day state visit to Prague yesterday to promote business ties, crowning efforts by Czech President Milos Zeman to build a strategic relationship with Beijing.

Mr Zeman has been keen to build stronger ties with China and Russia since his election in 2013 rather than with Prague's partners in Nato and the European Union, though the government, not the president, bears the main responsibility for Czech foreign policy.

Mr Xi's visit, the first by a Chinese president, will include a business forum and the signing of Chinese investments in the nation of 10.6 million people. China is Prague's third-biggest trade partner, with bilateral trade worth some US$21 billion (S$28.7 billion).

"The Chinese and Czech sides should without delay raise the position of mutual relations, see them from a strategic viewpoint and long-term perspective," Mr Xi said in an article published in the Czech daily Pravo on Saturday.

China was deeply appreciative that Mr Zeman attended a massive military parade in Beijing last September marking the end of World War II, the only Western leader to do so.

On a previous 2014 trip, Mr Zeman said he had gone to China to "learn how to increase economic growth and how to stabilise society" rather than "teach market economy or human rights".

LONG-TERM VIEW

The Chinese and Czech sides should without delay raise the position of mutual relations, see them from a strategic viewpoint and long-term perspective.

MR XI JINPING, President of China, in an article published in the Czech daily Pravo on Saturday.

That marks a sharp contrast with the Czech Republic's first post-communist president Vaclav Havel, a Soviet-era dissident and personal friend of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Mr Zeman invited Mr Xi to a presidential residence outside Prague, the first foreign dignitary to be hosted there. The special treatment given to Mr Xi has prompted protests from the Czech opposition, who have compared it to the warm welcome extended to Soviet leaders during the Cold War.

On Saturday, an unidentified suspect defaced dozens of Chinese flags on a main airport road with black paint and human rights activists are planning demonstrations.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the attempt by a "handful of saboteurs" to disrupt the visit would not damage relations.

Attempts by Chinese intelligence to build influence in Czech political circles have raised eyebrows in the Czech counter-intelligence service. In its 2014 annual report, it said unnamed Czech civil servants and politicians were aiding these efforts.

Chinese investments so far have mostly consisted of acquisitions by CEFC China Energy, which claims to be the sixth biggest private enterprise in China. Its executive vice-president Marcela Hrda told Reuters the group is completing investments worth 18 billion crowns (S$1 billion) to add to 20 billion crowns spent already.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2016, with the headline 'Sino-Czech ties get boost as Xi makes first visit to Prague'. Print Edition | Subscribe