Chinese president’s lavish reception in Prague sparks controversy

Xi Jinping, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the Czech Republic on a two-day state visit that aims to symbolize a restart in relations between the two countries. His lavish reception in Prague has evoked mixed reactions with some officials hailing the visit as the beginning of a new era in business relations and others interpreting it as a betrayal of human rights and democratic values.

Xi Jinping,  Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
The first-ever visit by the Chinese head of state was marked by controversy even before President Xi Jinping’s plane touched down at Vaclav Havel Airport. Twelve people were detained after replacing some of the Chinese flags decorating the main route from the airport to the city centre with Tibetan ones and a group of Chinese nationals waiting to welcome the president en route to his hotel got into a scuffle with protesters out to remind the Chinese leader of his country’s human rights violations.

Tension was also high on the political scene in the wake of an interview that President Miloš Zeman gave to China’s CCTV news on the eve of the high-profile visit in which he claimed that the former right-wing government was to blame for the poor state of Czech-Chinese relations.

Photo: CTK
“There was a very bad relationship between China and the former government of the Czech Republic. That government was very submissive to pressure from the US and the EU. Now we are again an independent country and we formulate our foreign policy based on our own national interests. And we do not interfere in the internal relations of any other country.”

The president’s words drew sharp criticism from the opposition parties. The head of the former centre-right government Petr Nečas reminded the president that it was in fact his government that set the ground for a more pragmatic policy line in relation to China, while TOP 09 leader Miroslav Kalousek noted that since the Czech Republic is a member of the EU and NATO the president's statement was a rejection of the foreign policy that guarantees the country freedom and security.

Away from the controversy, President Xi Jinping was given a lavish welcome such as Prague had not witnessed for decades – an alley of Czech and Chinese flags marked the route to his hotel, prominently placed billboards welcomed him to the Czech Republic in Czech and Chinese and a welcome with military honours, including a 21 gun salute, awaited him at Prague Castle.

Xi Jinping,  Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
At a ceremony at Prague Castle on Tuesday the Czech and Chinese presidents oversaw the signing of a number of bilateral agreements including a document on strategic partnership. The Czech president and the government which have been actively courting Chinese investments for some time say their efforts will bear fruit in the form of multi-billion crown deals, new job opportunities and increased exports to China. Sceptics argue that so far the Czech Republic has little to show for its diplomatic efforts and countries such as South Korea already have far bigger investments in the Czech Republic without the need for excessive servility.