Czech President Milos Zeman [Xinhua file photo]
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.