Czechs summon Chinese ambassador as Beijing plays hardball

By bne IntelliNews November 3, 2016

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek has summoned the Chinese ambassador in Prague to a meeting, he announced on November 2.

The move extends the political scandal that exploded in late October, after the culture minister met the Dalai Lama. The episode is an illustration of how the petty provincial manoevuering that dominates the Czech political system can get so out of control that it allows relations with the world’s second largest economy to be put in jeopardy.

A grovelling letter from the Czech president and prime minister to Beijing in the wake of the meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader appears to have been a wasted humiliation. President Milos Zeman, who alongside a posse of eastern-facing oligarchs has led an enthusiastic push to invite Chinese investment into the country, has since been accused of blackmailing the culture minister by refusing an award to his uncle, a holocaust survivor.

Yet that appears to have been to no avail. China, well known for its thin skin, hardball tactics, and enthusiasm to link diplomacy and economics, cancelled scheduled meetings of Beijing officials with Czech Minister of Agriculture Marian Jurecka late on November 1.

Zaoralek, from coalition leader CSSD, had earlier accused Culture Minister Daniel Herman of reneging on an agreement to not meet officially with the Dalai Lama. Jurecka is a fellow member of the Christian Democrats, the junior partner in the three party coalition.

Analysts note that the provincial backbiting that passes for Czech politics is damaging the country’s international relations. Czech foreign policy has been confused since Zeman was elected in 2013, who has pursued a line at variance with the foreign ministry.

"Zeman’s steps towards China have greatly politicized Czech foreign policy. The China agenda has effectively been hijacked by the growing conflict between Zeman and his opponents, making Czech policy towards the PRC a mere function of an internal political struggle," Ivana Karaskova of the Association for International Affairs wrote. "Sadly, right at the moment when the Chinese role in global affairs is growing, there is no serious political talk about a comprehensive strategy towards Beijing."

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