President Zeman tells Chinese officials Prague will not question China’s stance on Tibet, Taiwan

Miloš Zeman and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, photo: ČTK

President Miloš Zeman on Monday concludes his official visit to China. During his four-day trip, the Czech president assured his hosts his country respected China’s integrity, and did not recognize Tibet’s government in exile. The visit comes as part of Czech efforts to boost relations and trade ties with China – but leading Czech sinologist Olga Lomová is sceptical about the potential economic benefits of Mr Zeman’s visit.

Miloš Zeman and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing,  China,  photo: ČTK
“It is very hard to judge what the president’s visit might bring in the future. At the moment there is a strange feeling of Mr Zeman trying hard to please his hosts in China without thinking about the background about the content of his speeches.”

The Czech government has been trying to open the door for Czech businesses to enter the Chinese market. Will the visit help in this respect?

“It is very interesting that ever since the Czech government started talking about the importance of improving relations with China, we have not seen any concrete data or numbers. It has always been a very general talk about the necessity of an improvement. We know that many Czech businesses were successful in China even before these efforts started.”

As you have already said, several Czech based firms have been successful in China, including Škoda Auto and several other machinery producers. In which other areas do you think Czech companies are most likely to succeed?

“We should perhaps be aware that Czech Republic has very little business that could do large-scale projects. Majority of Czech businesses successful in China are small businesses and they specialize in fields such as glass, fine technologies, medicine technologies, light industry, I would say. Basically they are addressing the rich people in China who are interested in traditional European goods.”

Olga Lomová,  photo: ČT24
One issue President Zeman raised during his visit was the lifting of visas for Chinese diplomats; Mr Zeman also said the Czech Republic would push for the lifting of visas for all Chinese citizens travelling to the EU. How likely do you think that is to happen?

“In my opinion this is one of the examples of an – I am sorry to be so impolite - empty talk. How can you promise to give somebody a visa-less exchange if you are a member of the European Union and there is such a problem with immigration to the European Union? I cannot imagine other European countries supporting this idea.”

The Czech government seems to have abandoned the human rights accent in its policy towards China, and other countries; instead, it is focusing on closer economic cooperation with these countries. Do you think this shift will lead to the desired economic results?

“Well, I am sceptical. Before I see the results I don’t believe it very much. Moreover, we had one strong position in negotiation with China. It was the position of common experience of communist regime which we successfully democratised.

“This is something which is being debated in China, even though not as openly as we would like to see it. This is something the Chinese are very interested in and for which we are very much admired. So if in these negotiations we abandon the heritage of the Velvet Revolution and Václav Havel, we weaken ourselves as partners. I am absolutely convinced about it.”