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Czech president to skip Beijing summit over China 'investment letdown'

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 1/13/2020 Stuart Lau
Milos Zeman wearing a suit and tie: Czech President Milos Zeman will not be attending the “17+1” summit in Beijing in April. Photo: AFP © AFP Czech President Milos Zeman will not be attending the “17+1” summit in Beijing in April. Photo: AFP
  • Milos Zeman has long pushed for closer ties between the two countries but says the Chinese side has not lived up to its promises

China’s lack of investment in central Europe has upset one of its staunchest supporters in the region, with the Czech president snubbing an invitation to attend a summit in Beijing in April.

Czech President Milos Zeman, a long-standing advocate of closer ties with China, voiced disappointment about Chinese investment on the weekend just as China was hoping to attract central and eastern European nations to the “17+1 summit”, an event to be chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I don’t think the Chinese side has done what it promised. I’m talking about investments. And that means that even though a prominent political figure will be there, it won’t be the president,” Czech newspaper Blesk quoted Zeman as saying,

Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamacek will attend in his place.

The comments also came as Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je arrived in Prague on Monday to sign a sister-city agreement with Prague officials, further straining Chinese-Czech ties.

Zeman’s absence from the Beijing summit leaves China without the support of one of its core backers among European leadership, dealing a blow to its vision to broadened cooperation with the European Union this year amid rivalry with the United States.

“This is a surprise move by Zeman, who is arguably the most important person driving the pro-China turn of the Czech Republic during the last few years,” said Richard Turcsanyi, director of Central European Institute of Asian Studies at Palacky University in the Czech Republic.

“This comes close to a slap in Beijing’s face.”

Ko Wen-je standing next to a bag of luggage: Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je arrived in Prague on Monday. Photo: Facebook © Facebook Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je arrived in Prague on Monday. Photo: Facebook

Zeman had championed closer ties between his country and China and Russia, despite the Czech Republic’s membership of Nato and the EU.

But Czech opposition politicians are growing wary of China’s role in the country – especially after Czech cybersecurity assessments last year that highlighted risks of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies.

The anti-China sentiment in the former communist country came to head last year when Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib announced he would switch sister-city status from Beijing to Taipei.

The city deal is expected to be concluded on Monday, hard on the heels of a strong showing by Ko’s new party in Taiwan’s legislative elections on the weekend.

Hrib, who formerly interned in Taiwan, refused to sign the sister-city agreement with Beijing after it insisted on including a one-China clause in the terms.

“This article is a one-sided declaration that Prague agrees with and respects the one-China policy and such a statement has no place in the sister-cities agreement,” Hrib said last year.

Ko will also visit Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

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