Normative aspect: D
Final mark: C
The Czech government’s attempts to forge closer relations with China culminated with Beijing’s elevation to the status of strategic partner last year. However, the reality of these mutual relations does not correspond to the political capital invested. Economic cooperation remains very limited and has yet to yield the projected level of incoming investment or a more even trade balance. Factors at fault here include the vaguely formulated priorities of mutual cooperation. However, if clear priorities are absent or if there is disagreement on the fundamental priorities, the Czech Republic becomes weaker and exploitable partner.
Last year saw the most intensive efforts yet to improve political and economic relations with China, manifested in particular by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to the Czech Republic, which became the first Central European country he visited. The nature of relations with the People’s Republic of China was also a matter of domestic political dispute. In practice, however, economic cooperation has delivered only minimum results.
During his March visit to Prague, President Xi signed a strategic partnership agreement, akin to the one China had already concluded, for example, with Poland, together with other treaties intended to generate CZK 230 billion in investment by 2020. The two countries went on to confirm their bilateral cooperation agreement within the framework of the New Silk Road initiative in Riga in November. The Czech Republic became the first country with which China had drawn up such a cooperation plan.
Although the Czech Republic has invested a lot of political capital in this partnership, the corresponding economic results have yet to be achieved. The trade balance is not improving, the share of Czech exports is declining, and Chinese investments are negligible, compared to those made by the Japanese and Koreans. Furthermore, of the total volume of investments in recent years, a bare minimum has been channelled into areas that create new jobs or otherwise develop the Czech economy. Chinese investments have so far tended to be acquisitions that aspire to achieve stable yields and prestige. New projects remain very general and their subject-matter and content fall within long-declared priority areas such as aviation and health. Although cooperation with China rarely bears fruit overnight, three years of earnest contact and political effort demand more tangible results.
China also became a hot domestic political topic. The Security Information Service’s annual report, for example, warned of potential Chinese influence in the Czech Republic. The presidential visit was then accompanied by clashes between Chinese supporters welcoming the arrival of President Xi and his Czech opponents. However, a statement by four top-level public officials in October condemning Minister of Culture, Daniel Herman’s public audience with the Dalai Lama became the focus of criticism. The statement, prepared by the Czech diplomatic service, was unheard of in modern Czech history. Furthermore, the efforts of these high-ranking state representatives were coolly received by the Chinese, and despite the release of the statement, the Chinese authorities cancelled Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka’s key meetings in Beijing. This strong gesture therefore only served to deepen domestic disputes and, if anything, is proof of endeavours to maintain good relations at all costs rather than a well-thought-out course of action with a clear objective.