Prime Minister Paroubek visits China

The Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek is on his longest foreign trip since taking office two months ago. After visiting Japan last week where he met top officials including the Japanese Emperor Akihito, he moved on to China on Saturday where his talks focused mostly on Czech-Chinese trade relations. At the last minute a meeting was also set up with the Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTKJiri Paroubek, photo: CTK China is a fast developing and huge economy and a magnet for foreign investment. But human rights remain a sensitive issue, and also one that the Czech Republic often likes to stress in its foreign policy. While the former Czech President Vaclav Havel was a strong advocate of human rights abroad and refused to travel to countries like China, his successor Vaclav Klaus as well as the current Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek take a far more pragmatic approach, preferring to stress economic relations.

But according to Rudolf Furst from the Prague Institute of International Relations Vaclav Havel's policy was rather an exception, and Mr. Paroubek's approach is more typical in the current situation.

"The Czech Republic is a country with parliamentary system. We do not have a presidential system. Who is conducting the foreign policy is the government. Vaclav Havel was a former dissident and that is why he was generally known for his critical attitudes towards totalitarian or authoritative regimes. That is why is also criticised China. But in my view, this criticism in the Czech Republic is overestimated and it did not influence the Czech-Chinese relations too much."

Jiri Paroubek and Hu Jintao, photo: CTKJiri Paroubek and Hu Jintao, photo: CTK According to Rudolf Furst Czechoslovakia had close trade relations with China back in communist days, and the Czech leadership wants to build on these ties.

"Well, I think there is a tradition of Czech industrial products in China. We exported cars, lorries - for instance the Tatra trucks. There is also a tradition of industrial build up and participation in construction of big industrial units - for instance construction of power plants."

Trade possibilities were the main focus of Mr Paroubek's hour-long debate with President Hu Jintao.

"I mentioned some Czech projects that have recently been successfully achieved. I also spoke about the Czech position in the European Union. In China we are often viewed as a country that is among the most developed countries. I've also pointed out that the competitiveness of Czech products is rising. So I am trying to show the Chinese officials that the Czech Republic can bring something new even to the Chinese market."

Before going to China Prime Minister Paroubek consulted his trip with the Czech Communists who are said to be connoisseurs of Communist countries in general. This, and the fact that he chose to ignore human rights issues altogether during his long meeting with the Chinese president, has infuriated some of his political opponents, and we can expect the debate to continue when he comes home later this week.