A simmering feud between the Czech Republic’s capital city and China risks boiling over, with Beijing warning Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib to stop undermining relations between the two countries or else.
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news conference in Beijing that Hřib and his city administration had taken measures that affected China’s sovereignty and interests, the State-run News Agency Xinhua reported.
Hřib, a Czech Pirate Party politician, has flown the Tibetan flag at the capital’s city hall, met with the Taiwanese representative to the Czech Republic and said he would end the ‘sister city’ accord agreed by the previous Prague administration and Beijing.
He also rejected the so-called One China policy, an approach under which many countries, including the Czech Republic as well as the EU, do not recognise Taiwan and do not maintain formal diplomatic relations with its government.
In response, the Chinese Culture Ministry earlier this year cancelled a number of concerts and other performances in China by Prague based organisations, including a tour by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra scheduled for this fall.
Hřib has flown the Tibetan flag at the capital’s city hall, met with the Taiwanese representative to the Czech Republic and said he would end the ‘sister city’ accord agreed by the previous Prague administration and Beijing.
Geng told journalists on Wednesday that Hřib’s actions are “the fundamental reason why related parties and individuals of Prague are not welcomed by Chinese people,” urging the city authorities to change their ways.
“Otherwise,” he warned, “they will eventually damage their own interests.”
The Mayor, who has been in office less than a year, hit back on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “China should focus more on Czech-Chinese relations in keeping with previous investment promises that have not been met. Abolishing the Prague Philharmonic tour, which had already signed a contract, shows that China is not a reliable business partner.”
According to a Statement by the Confederation of Czech Industries released late last year, the value of Chinese investments in the Czech Republic accounts for less than 1 percent of total Direct Foreign Investments in the Country.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček tried to smooth things over in a Twitter post on Thursday, writing:
“Due to the current development, I want to meet with the Chinese Ambassador to the Czech Republic as soon as possible. I find it unfortunate that politics should interfere with Culture.”
He added: “The Czech Government has no possibility to influence the steps of a democratically elected local government. I believe the Chinese side understands this.”
But the dispute could eventually affect Czech national politics, as President Miloš Zeman has gone to great lengths to open China’s enormous market to Czech businesses and attract Chinese Investment. His last visit to the country took place in April on the occasion of the Second Belt & Road Forum in Beijing.
Before setting off on that trip, Zeman complained in an interview with China’s broadcaster CCTV about the lack of Chinese Investment, calling it “a stain on Czech-Chinese cooperation.”
The Czech Republic is among a handful of EU countries that have signed a memorandum of understanding with China to promote its vast Belt & Road Initiative infrastructure.
The Confederation of Czech Industries warned in its statement that bilateral trade with China is developing to the detriment of the Czech Republic, as exports to China fell by 1.7 percent between January and September last year, while imports from China rose by 13 percent in the same period.
In addition, the Czech Republic’s trade deficit with China reached 419 billion Czech koruna (€16.38 billion) in 2017, the confederation’s statement said, adding that this “negative trend” continued in 2018.