China / China

Czech Republic looks to strengthen ties

By Fu Jing (China Daily) Updated: 2017-05-10 11:29

The Central European country hopes to become a regional financial center. Fu Jing reports from Prague.

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of reports focusing on the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, the proposed trade route linking China with the rest of the world.

In the heart of Prague's Old Town, representatives of the Czech Republic's Central Bohemian Region and officials from Sichuan province in Southwest China sat together on the ground floor of an old building.

It was the first time the two groups had met under the same roof to further their aim of promoting synergy and close cooperation. They have opened promotion centers in Sichuan and Prague, the Czech capital, to embrace the concept of "think globally, act locally".

The top floor of the building is also home to the New Silk Road Institute, established to promote the Belt and Road Initiative. The institute was founded by Jan Kohout, a former foreign minister who is now adviser to Czech President Milos Zeman.

As one of the people involved in bringing Central Bohemia and Sichuan closer together, Kohout has good reason to put the centers and his institute together.

"It is an innovative mix of government promotion centers and a think tank," he said. "We need to think big and also promote specific projects."

Kohout has just returned from a visit to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. He is attempting to persuade the city authorities to build an industrial park in the Czech Republic, and is even trying to bring giant pandas to the country.

A political highway

"What I understand is that a political highway has already been built between the two countries, and we need to increase traffic by expanding cooperation in various areas," Kohout said.

The "political highway" he referred to is the closeness of the strategic partnership formed in recent years through frequent high-level exchanges.

Kohout will accompany Zeman to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which will be held in Beijing at the weekend. It will be the Czech leader's third visit to China since taking office in 2013, the year Xi proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, known together as the Belt and Road Initiative.


Ma Keqing, China's ambassador to the Czech Republic, said the frequency of high-level political exchanges between the countries is unprecedented.

"In the past three years, President Xi and President Zeman have met six times. Now, Zeman is going to make his third visit to China, which illustrates the closeness of our top leaders," she said. "We need to maintain that momentum."

In March last year, Xi paid a state visit to the Czech Republic. Ma said the upgrading of the countries' relationship to a strategic partnership signifies the Czech Republic's recognition of the importance of its ties with China, because the Central European country only has strategic partnerships with six countries.

In November, 2015, China and the Czech Republic signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly promote the Belt and Road Initiative. In November, the memorandum was transformed into the Belt and Road Initiative Work Program.

Kohout believes the deepening of the relationship indicates his country's belief in the initiative.

"It is obvious how firmly the Czech Republic supports the initiative, and now the most important thing for us is to enrich it by institutionalizing the platforms and designing suitable projects," he said.

Home Credit Group, an international consumer finance provider and the Czech Republic's biggest investor in China, is one of the frontrunners in boosting investment in the country.

"We aim to partner with Chinese companies to invest in other countries as part of our new strategy after ushering in the Belt and Road Initiative," said David Minol, CEO of Home Credit Philippines.

Home Credit has formed a partnership with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Oppo Electronics, based in Dongguan, Guangdong province, and they have already increased their joint presence in Vietnam and the Philippines by offering loans to potential buyers of mobile phones.

Investment trend

According to Ma, the Czechs are very positive about boosting cooperation through synergies in each other's megaprojects to implement the initiative.

She said China's investment in the Czech Republic has soared, with more than $1 billion being invested by the end of last year: "It is not significant compared with our investment in larger countries, but it is growing from a low base. Before 2014, China's total investment in the country was less than $300 million."

While helping the Czech Republic realize its ambition of becoming a regional hub for finance and aviation, China is also forging deeper cooperation in industrialization and the advanced manufacturing sector, according to Ma.

"In addition to investment, we should also aim to improve China's industrial competitiveness by further boosting cooperation with the Czech Republic," she said.

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Czech Republic looks to strengthen ties

A Changhong TV production line in Nymburk, the Czech Republic.Ding Yi / Xinhua

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