As relations between China and the Czech Republic — once one of China’s top partners in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region — deteriorate, a second Chinese airline has cancelled flights to Prague.
The decision by China Eastern Airlines comes amid a deepening dispute between the authorities in the Czech Republic and in China.
The Czech Republic was once a top target for Chinese investors, but relations soured following the financial problems at private Chinese conglomerate CEFC China Energy that had announced a string of deals in the Czech Republic, and more recent complaints by Czech President Miloc Zeman about unfulfilled Chinese promises to Prague.
In the latest development, China Eastern Airlines will restrict its flights from Prague to Shanghai with effect from March, joining Hainan Airlines, which announced the closure of its direct flights from Beijing to Prague earlier last week, online Zdopravy.cz reported on January 23.
“Let us inform you that China Eastern Airlines is cancelling MU708 / 707 flights between Prague and Shanghai as of March 1, 2020,” the airline wrote in its statement. The flights have already been deleted from the reservation system.
“At the moment we have no further information from carriers about the changes in the timetable. Of course, the situation may change for operational or other reasons, and these changes are always at the discretion of the airline,” said Prague Airport spokesperson Katerina Pavlikova.
The same statement from the airport was provided on January 22 in relation to the cancellation of flights operated by Hainan Airlines.
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed it was not aware of any reasons for such a measure.
However, it comes amid a recent rise in tensions in relations between China and the Czech Republic. According to Zeman and Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, China has not met the Czech Republic's economic expectations.
Earlier this month, Zeman said he did not plan to visit China's April summit with Central and Eastern European countries due to unfulfilled promises of China to the Czech Republic. While China is an increasingly important investor into the CEE region as a whole, the Czech authorities have been disappointed with the level of investment in their country.
According to the president's chancellor, Vratislav Mynar, the president’s now cancelled trip to China depends on the Chinese representatives, whether they promise specific projects, not “just another memorandum”. If specific deals are in the offing, the president will join Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamacek at the April summit.
The president also decided to postpone the Czech-Chinese business forum planned to be held at Prague Castle from spring to autumn.
Last year Zeman warned that a diplomatic quarrel between Prague and China over the termination of the sister-city partnership agreement would lead to the closure of the airline routes from China to Prague.
He also said in October that China would stop financing the Slavia Praha football club, one of the assets taken over by CEFC and later transferred first to the CITIC fund then Sinobo Group, in retaliation for the termination of the Prague-Beijing partnership agreement.
The relationship between the Prague authorities and China has fuelled the tensions between the countries. At the beginning of the year, Prague’s City Hall decided to revoke the partnership agreement with Beijing signed in 2016, due to China refusing to remove a clause from the agreement that states that Prague supports the One-China principle, which does not recognise Taiwan.
Instead, the Prague authorities signed a sister city agreement with the Taiwanese capital Taipei. Mayor Zdenek Hrib further angered the Chinese authorities by flying the Tibetan flag at City Hall.
The government of the Chinese financial hub Shanghai issued a statement slamming the Prague leadership. “It interferes arbitrarily in China's internal politics and publicly opposes the principle of One China. The Shanghai government and its people strongly protest against it,” the statement said, as cited by Czech TV.