Czech government aims to reset relations with China

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek

The Czech government want to reset relations with China in an attempt to boost trade between the two countries. Just days before the first visit of a Czech foreign minister to Beijing in 15 years, Czech government officials announced they would adopt EU policy towards the communist country, and would no longer question its occupation of Tibet.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech government has signalled that it is ready to stop criticising Beijing’s human rights record and its occupation of Tibet in an attempt to increase trade with China, and to attract Chinese investors into the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told a news conference in Prague on Wednesday the Czech Republic should try and normalize its relations with China.

“If we want to get our relations with China on the same level as other EU member states, we want to follow the principles of the EU’s joint policy towards China. That includes, among other things, the One-China policy, the inseparability of Tibet, and the principle of non-intervention in China’s domestic affairs.”

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: Tomáš Adamec
The announcement came just days ahead of Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek’s trip to China, the first official visit by a Czech foreign minister to that country in 15 years. Mr Zaorálek’s agenda for the trip includes cooperation in the energy, aviation and tourism sectors as well as potential Chinese investments. But he said that most importantly, the visit should break the ice between Prague and Beijing.

“Our relations with China have been frozen on the ministerial level. There have been no political contacts at the top level which is something we want to change now. It’s not just one trip to China; the visit should pave the way for normal political relations and more visits in the future, including those of the Czech prime minister and president. This is a new era.”

The Czech government’s new course towards China has been welcomed by industry associations. Several human rights groups including People in Need and Amnesty International, meanwhile, have criticized the move. People in Need’s director Šimon Pánek said the foreign minister’s mission could take place without such “embarrassing pandering”.

Lhasa,  Tibet,  photo: Ondřej Žváček,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Some experts also question the significance of the government’s gesture. China is only the 16th biggest export destination for the Czech Republic; despite Prague’s vocal support for Tibet, Czech exports grew from around 13.2 billion crowns in 2008 to nearly 32.7 billion in 2012. Alice Rezková is an analyst with the Prague-based think tank Association for International Affairs. She says the Czech Republic does have a reputation as being the most hostile EU member state towards China, but that Beijing has rarely penalized the country for it.

“I think that if want to have more business interaction with China, we need more people-to-people contacts, we need more business missions to China, more scientific cooperation, and maybe even channel some governmental funds into this area that would help us create this relationship.”