Prague, Czech Republic – China’s Hainan Airlines will cancel direct flights between Prague and Beijing starting in March, the Czech Foreign Ministry and Prague Airport announced earlier this week.
Hainan Airlines to halt direct flights between Prague and Beijing
“We don’t have any official information why this step was taken”, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Strichova commented, saying that Chinese officials hadn’t given any reason and didn’t indicate whether it was temporary or definitive.
Hainan Airlines had been operating direct flights three times a week between the Czech and Chinese capitals since 2015.
It’s still uncertain whether other Chinese companies operating direct flights between the two countries will follow suit. China Eastern Airlines still operates flights between Prague and the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Xi’an, while Sichuan Airlines connects the Czech capital city to Chengdu.
Czech-Chinese relations hit a new low
Although reasons behind Hainan Airlines’ decision remain unknown, Czech-Chinese relations have been deteriorating over the past few months.
While Czech President Milos Zeman has long spearheaded efforts to forge closer ties with the world’s second-largest economy, Beijing’s undue influence in the country and failure to live up to its commitments and investment promises came under increased scrutiny during the past year.
The Czech cybersecurity and counter-intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned of the threat presented by China’s growing espionage activities in the Central European country and advised against the use of telecoms giant Huawei’s products in critical infrastructure, saying they could pose a serious security risk.
Growing diplomatic rift between Prague and Beijing
Bilateral relations took a turn for the worse and erupted into an all-out diplomatic crisis last year after the mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib (Pirate Party), an outspoken critic of China and supporter of Taiwan and Tibet, terminated the capital’s sister-agreement with Beijing.
Prague has since then moved to sign a twin-city agreement with Taipei. “Human rights are worth more than a panda”, municipal councilor Jan Čižinsky summed up, referring to Beijing’s (unkept) promise to donate a panda to the Prague Zoo.
In a surprising move, Czech President Milos Zeman himself announced he won’t be traveling to Beijing to attend the international 17+1 summit in April, arguing that China had failed to live up to its side of the bargain in terms of investments.