Friday, 7 December 2018

LN: Zeman to be only EU state head at Silk Road summit in China

ČTK |
2 May 2017

Prague, April 28 (CTK) - Czech President Milos Zeman will be the only EU head of state to attend the summit on a new Silk Road to be held in Beijing in May during his third visit to China, daily Lidove noviny (LN) wrote on Friday.

Zeman will leave for China in two weeks.

LN writes that dozens of heads of state from Asia, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Swiss President Doris Leuthard will take part in the economic conference, which is the Chinese answer to globalisation.

Five EU countries will send their prime ministers to Beijing and Britain will be represented by Finance Minister Philip Hammond. The other EU countries will not go to China at all or they will only send a ministerial delegation there, which Germany is to do.

Zeman's spokesman Jiri Ovcacek says Zeman's solo participation in the Chinese summit is a great chance for the Czech Republic

During his one-week visit to Beijing, Zeman will be accompanied by his adviser for China, Jan Kohout, former diplomat and foreign minister.

Kohout established his own lobbying group, the Institute of the New Silk Road, last year. He is also behind the Sino-Czech Aviation Association that is negotiating cooperation between Czech aircraft producers and China, LN writes.

The project of a new Silk Road, that is "a commercial and political highway to China," is an opportunity for following decades, Kohout said.

"This is a logical continuation of the president's policy towards China," Kohout told LN.

However, not all experts are convinced that Zeman's trip will clearly contribute to the Czech economy, LN says.

Sinologist Martin Hala points out that the new Silk Road is only a vaguely defined initiative that primarily suits Chinese interests to enter European markets through bilateral contacts with EU member states, while circumventing EU rules.

In the Czech Republic, the banking sector, for instance, is definitely very tempting to the Chinese, he said.

Brussels does not support the system where China is choosing particular business partners on its own, and it is negotiating with Beijing on behalf of the whole EU. This is why Brussels pushes for the EU to act as one whole in China, LN says.

The Czech Republic, along with the neighbouring Slovakia and Poland as well as Hungary, which form the Visegrad Four (V4) group, is one of the countries that want to negotiate with China directly if possible, either bilaterally or on the level of the 16+1 initiative associating 16 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and China. The rest of the EU does not participate in this, LN writes.

"The Czech Republic is thereby sitting on two chairs. On the one hand, there is the EU's common trade policy and on the other hand, the oligarchic state capitalism. The tension between these two cooperation models will be rising," Hala told LN.

The visit to China may be contributing for Zeman not only because of the summit and a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, but Putin might receive Zeman directly in Beijing as well, like two years ago. However, this meeting has not been confirmed yet, LN adds, referring to its sources.

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