Prague, Czech Republic – On Wednesday, Czech President Milos Zeman set off for an official 4-day working visit to China, his sixth since taking office in 2013, and supported Beijing’s controversial Belt and Road initiative.
Milos Zeman’s sixth trip to China since 2013
According to the official program (in Czech) released by Prague Castle, the controversial head of state is due to hold meetings with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and various government officials, as well as the presidents of Bank of China and Sichuan Airlines and representatives of CITIC Group.
According to Radio Prague, apart from a number of ministers and government officials, the Czech delegation will also include star hockey player Jaromír Jágr and Pavel Nedvěd, former football star and current vice-chairman of the Juventus Turin football club, as well as Pavel Tykač, one of the country’s richest men particularly active in the energy sector.
Czech President Milos Zeman will also take part to the second “Silk Road – Belt and Road Initiative Forum for International Cooperation”, follow-up of the first one held two years ago and due to be attended by leaders from 30 different countries.
Zeman will stay in China until Sunday, April 28.
The Huawei controversy
Milos Zeman is also due to meet with Ren Zhengfei, founder of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which has been at the center of a major scandal in Prague after the Czech cybersecurity agency warned against the use of its products and services, amid growing worries regarding Chinese espionage on Czech soil.
This warning sparked a long-overdue debate on Chinese influence in the Czech Republic, with the Czech President siding with Huawei and arguing there was no tangible proof to back the allegations made against the Chinese tech conglomerate.
Czech Republic to take active part in China’s Belt and Road Initiative
According to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Milos Zeman gave an interview to Chinese media ahead of his Beijing trip, in which he labelled Xi’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative as “a fantastic infrastructure project”. “My intention is to propose the Czech Republic as one of the possible countries for the communication [of China] to European countries. And the Czech Republic will not be omitted in the process”.
The Czech President praised bilateral relations in the aviation sector, arguing that “we might be something like an airport hub for China in Europe”, as well as in the area of financial services. He called for further cooperation in the railway sector, and also pointed to the success-stories of two of the largest Czech firms, auto manufacturer Skoda and giant conglomerate PPF, owned by the country’s secretive richest man Petr Kellner, on the Chinese market.
Since his election in 2013, Milos Zeman has been the most vocal spokesman for increased relations with China, embodying the Czech Republic’s more general shift towards the world’s second largest economy.
To get more background info about Czech-Chinese relations, you can read our series of articles dedicated to the topic: