All roads lead to Beijing, that is at least the impression given by top Czech politicians in the recent past. Hard on the heels of head of state Miloš Zeman’s trip in September, Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka is now in the throes of an almost week long trip to China with boosting business one of the main targets of the trip.
Perhaps the main headline event of prime minister Sobotka’s Chinese trip is the fourth meeting between government leaders of 16 Central and South-East European countries and their Chinese counterpart. Most of those other prime ministers from the region are after the same thing – Chinese investment – and Prague feels that it has some catching up to do after what is perceived as a slow start.
For that reason, the Czech prime minister and his large delegation, will not just be meeting with the Chinese prime minister, but also with the Chinese president, and regional leaders of the provinces of Beijing, Shanghai, and the northern province of Hebei.
Improved relations with China have been one of the flagship policies of the current coalition government – taking a step back from the championing of human rights and Tibet that was a hallmark of earlier Czech policy. And the Czech prime minister told Czech Television before leaving for China that the policy is already bringing fruits.
“We are trying to increase bilateral trade and I am pleased that we have succeeded in doing that over the last two years. Year-on-year the number of Chinese tourists coming to the Czech Republic has risen by 40 percent. This year, 300,000 Chinese tourists have come here. And we have also managed to increase our exports, that is our goods and services, to China by 15 percent. That is a dramatic rise. And I believe that it is our better relations with China are now having significant economic results.”
It should perhaps be pointed out that Chinese exports to the Czech Republic have risen even faster and there is still a gaping difference in the trade balance between the two countries. So Czech ambitions are for further Chinese investments and stronger trade. As well as the business delegation accompanying the prime minister, he is also flanked by the ministers of health, transport, and regional development. Bohuslav Sobotka again:
“The goal of this trip is to promote the Czech Republic as a possible gateway to Europe, that is Central and Eastern Europe. We would like Prague to develop into a financial centre for Chinese investors. It’s with that in mind that I will be having talks in China with a series of banks. We would also like to improve transport links; so we will be having discussions about the creation of a second direct airline route.”
That first direct flights between Prague and Beijing started a month ago now. The target is for a second direct route to Shanghai to be launched. The prime minister’s trip could also fill in the final details required for Chinese President Xi Jinping to confirm an official visit to the Czech Republic next year.