Czech pres­i­dent em­braces ini­tia­tive with rich re­turns

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Prob­a­bly no other world leader has spent as much time in and given as much at­ten­tion to en­gag­ing China as Czech Pres­i­dent Mi­los Ze­man. On July 19, Ze­man in­vited about 1,500 busi­ness­peo­ple, ex­perts and of­fi­cials from the Czech Repub­lic and China to Prague Cas­tle for a wrap-up din­ner at the con­clu­sion of the China In­vest­ment Fo­rum.

The Prague event was one of the largest in­vest­ment gath­er­ings since Bei­jing hosted the Belt and Road Fo­rum for In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion in May. In his ad­dress to the guests, Ze­man said he was im­pressed by the re­sponse of Euro­pean and Chi­nese par­tic­i­pants to Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

“A fire burns high when ev­ery­body adds wood to it,” ac­cord­ing to a Chi­nese proverb. And Ze­man has been pro­vid­ing a lot of fuel to pro­pel the ini­tia­tive ever since Xi pro­posed it to bet­ter con­nect Asia, Europe and Africa. Apart from at­tend­ing the Bei­jing fo­rum, Ze­man has also wel­comed young soc­cer play­ers, trainee pi­lots and me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives from China to his of­fice.

Czech Prime Min­is­ter Bo­huslav Sobotka, too, has helped sup­port the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ini­tia­tive in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe. Sobotka has said his land-locked coun­try’s am­bi­tion is to be­come a re­gional fi­nan­cial and avi­a­tion hub — sim­i­lar to Lon­don, Paris and Frank­furt in Western Europe — by forg­ing syn­er­gies be­tween his coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment strat­egy and China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

The Czech Repub­lic is the fastest-grow­ing econ­omy in Europe, and it has reaped many ben­e­fits by co­op­er­at­ing with China. Ad­dress­ing the fo­rum last week, Sobotka said his 15-minute speech was not enough to list all the projects that Bei­jing and Prague have im­ple­mented. For ex­am­ple, sev­eral Chi­nese fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions have al­ready opened branches in Prague, and the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists vis­it­ing the Czech Repub­lic has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally — from only 50,000 in 2012 to about 500,000 fore­cast for this year.

In ad­di­tion, there are di­rect flights be­tween Prague and Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Chengdu to­day, and flights be­tween Prague and Shen­zhen and Kun­ming are ex­pected to be­gin soon. Per­haps no other coun­try the size of the Czech Repub­lic, with a pop­u­la­tion of only about 10 mil­lion, has so many di­rect flights to China.

Shang­hai-based CEFC China En­ergy, one of China’s lead­ing in­vestors in the Czech Repub­lic, has al­ready in­vested in sec­tors such as fi­nance, avi­a­tion, real es­tate, soc­cer, brew­eries, ma­chin­ery and e-busi­ness.

More­over, af­ter the first freight train left Prague for Yiwu, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, on July 20, the Czech Repub­lic said it would build a lo­gis­tics park to sup­port the link. The park is ex­pected to cre­ate about 3,000 jobs.

Xi has called the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive a 100-year project con­sid­er­ing its po­ten­tial and the ben­e­fits it could bring to par­tic­i­pat­ing economies. Cor­rob­o­rat­ing Xi, Ze­man has called the ini­tia­tive a “global dream”.

If Prague in­deed be­comes a re­gional fi­nan­cial and avi­a­tion hub, it will not only ben­e­fit the Czech econ­omy, but also help the Euro­pean Union ad­dress the dis­par­i­ties in wealth and de­vel­op­ment be­tween East­ern and Western Europe.

Hope­fully, other coun­tries will em­u­late the Czech Repub­lic’s ex­am­ple, and co­op­er­ate with China to seek mu­tual ben­e­fit.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. fu­jing@chi­

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