Second day of Chinese president’s visit sees signing of strategic partnership but also protests

Xi Jinping, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Czech Republic continued on Tuesday with the signing of a new strategic partnership treaty and meetings with top officials. While the visit is being viewed as a success for Chinese-Czech relations, human rights activists have raised their voices in protest at the servility shown to the Chinese leader.

Xi Jinping,  Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit so far has gone like clockwork and Tuesday brought key developments including the signing of the flagship strategic partnership agreement at Prague Castle and later talks with the prime minister and other officials in pursuit of stronger ties and closer economic cooperation. In the streets Chinese nationals were out in force to welcome their head of state in what the Czech media describe as organized displays of support. Czech protestors waving Tibetan or in one case an Uyghur flag, were less than welcome in the crowd, some jostled, some having protest flags torn from their grasp, some being crowded out. Later, a demonstration with hundreds of participants, including opposition party leader Miroslav Kalousek and former Green Party leader Martin Bursík, was blocked by police from entering Hradčanské náměstí, allegedly for security reasons. Afterwards, the former environment minister spoke to Czech TV:

Martin Bursík,  photo: CTK
“It didn’t occur to me for a second that, when we had a peaceful demonstration planned and okayed ahead of time, we would not even be allowed onto the square.”

Critics have charged that while it is logical for the Czech Republic, like other EU countries, to pursue stronger cooperation with China, human rights should not be ignored. Others questioned whether the country had overly pandered to China in return for investment, pointing to President Miloš Zeman’s statements including an apology to President Xi on Tuesday for “not sending a gold carriage” - a reference to how President Xi was received at Buckingham Palace. The charge that the Czech Republic had in any way been servile, though was denied by Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek.

“I strongly reject the notion that we [have been submissive]. I, better than anyone, know what went into preparing the ground for these agreements and when it came to the strategic partnership, made sure that certain formulations, unacceptable for us, were left out.”

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka also rejected claims that human rights were being ignored; stressing that in their meeting he had brought up the subject himself.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“For any kind of balanced development of society it is very important for basic human rights and freedoms to be respected. I supported the dialogue being conducted on the subject between China and the EU and proposed we also have our own dialogue, which the Chinese president actively reacted to.”

On the issue of the visit, reactions remain divided: Communist leader Vojtěch Filip for example called the outcome “win, win” while TOP 09’s Karel Schwarzenberg, the former foreign minister, instead backed protests against a man he called “a dictator responsible for mass executions, a cult of personality and strict censorship”.