Beijing ends agreement with Prague – but can spat harm Czech capital?

Beijing, photo: derwiki / Pixabay, CC0

A simmering row between Prague and Beijing has finally come to a head. After the former announced a decision to terminate a sister city agreement with the Chinese capital, the country’s embassy said late on Wednesday night that it had abrogated the document itself. But can the dispute actually harm Prague?

Beijing,  photo: derwiki / Pixabay,  CC0
In 2016 the mayors of Prague and Beijing ceremonially signed a sister city agreement during a visit to the Czech capital by Chinese President Xi Jingping.

At the start of this week, current mayor Zdeněk Hřib announced that Prague had decided to pull out of the agreement. The reason? An article stating that the city recognised the One-China policy, according to which Taiwan belongs to China.

The Prague government had called in vain on Beijing to remove the clause.

On Wednesday the Chinese side hit back, with its ambassador to Prague, Zhang Jianmin, saying the city’s own interests would suffer if it didn’t change tack.

Czech minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, said threats had no place in diplomacy and spoke of strong pressure from China, which has barred music ensembles linked to Prague from touring there in the recent past.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
Then late on Wednesday night the Chinese Embassy announced that it had itself revoked the sister city deal.

Minister Petříček gave his response to the news.

“I regard it as an expected step on Beijing’s part, as Prague had for several months considered terminating the agreement, due to the reference to the One-China policy, which the Czech Republic respects. Relations between cities don’t necessarily reflect the Czech Republic’s official foreign policy.”

Leading Czech sinologist Professor Olga Lomová says the Czech capital need not have anything to fear from the Beijing leadership.

“It’s just rhetoric. I can’t imagine what might happen to Prague from China, at this moment [laughs].

“Because to my knowledge, and according to the information from the Prague council, there is no serious collaboration between the two cities.

“We can expect any artistic or musical groups that would like to visit the capital of China would be prevented from doing so.

“But this is not the primary objective of the city of Prague – this is the private interest of these subjects.

Photo: Aidan McMichael,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“So that’s all that can happen, I think.”

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš warns that Prague being in a “state of war” with the world’s most populous state could impact the estimated 650,000 Chinese tourists who visit the city every year and generate taxes.

For her part, Professor Lomová jokes that may not be a bad thing.

“As we have too many tourists, I think it won’t be a loss. We will be quite happy. This is my personal opinion as a person living in the centre of Prague [laughs].”