Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was to begin 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.
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 EU, even though the government, not the president, bears the main responsibility for Czech foreign policy.
Xi’s visit, the first by a Chinese president, is to 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 about US$21 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,” Xi said in an article published in the Czech daily Pravo on Saturday.
China was appreciative that Zeman was the only Western leader to attend a massive military parade in Beijing in September last year marking the end of World War II.
On a 2014 trip, Zeman said he traveled to China to “learn how to increase economic growth and how to stabilize society” rather than “teach market economy or human rights.”
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.
Zeman was yesterday to invite Xi to a presidential residence outside Prague, the first foreign dignitary to be hosted there.
The special treatment Xi is to receive has prompted protests from members of the Czech opposition, who have compared it to the warm welcome extended to Soviet leaders during the Cold War.
Attempts by Chinese intelligence agents to build influence in Czech political circles have raised eyebrows in the Czech counterintelligence service. In its 2014 annual report, it said unnamed Czech civil servants and politicians were aiding these efforts.
Chinese investments have so far mostly consisted of acquisitions by CEFC China Energy, a firm with unknown owners that says it is the sixth-biggest private enterprise in China.
Last year CEFC took a 9.9 percent stake in the Czech Republic’s J&T Finance Group, which owns banks in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, stakes in airline Travel Service, in the Lobkowicz breweries, a media house and soccer club SK Slavia Praha.
The company is completing investments worth 18 billion crowns (US$742.9 million) to add to 20 billion crowns spent already, CEFC executive vice president Marcela Hrda told reporters. They include finance, energy, healthcare, industry, tourism and e-commerce.
A Czech source said CEFC was also interested in the Czech Republic’s GE Money Bank, which has been put up for sale.
The CEFC parent holding company is chaired by Ye Jianming (葉簡明), who was given the post of an adviser to Zeman in a highly unusual move to promote relations. The company has a defense industry license, which is unusual for a private enterprise in China.
The Czechs have so far lured more job-creating direct investment from Taiwan, such as computer maker Foxconn Technology Group.
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