At the 16 + 1 talks in Budapest on Monday, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka positively assessed the development of Czech-Chinese relations and said the Czech Republic wanted to host 16+1 summits on medicine and aviation next year.
Czech-Chinese cooperation has come a long way since Prague and Beijing announced a restart in bilateral relations in 2014 and China is high on the list of the government’s economic diplomacy priorities. In addition to frequent contacts on the political and business front, the 16 + 1 talks between Central and East European countries and China present a welcome opportunity to push business cooperation to a higher level and court more Chinese investments.
Although the 16+1 talks were intended to open a broader potential in the region for cooperation with China, most of the deals concluded at these meetings remain on a bilateral level, with each country pushing primarily its own interests. Prime Minister Sobotka said that while he was happy with the boost in Czech exports to China, which to some extent lowered the existing trade imbalance, he could see untapped potential both in trade and investments.
“I would say that there has been a positive shift in bilateral relations. We expect the number of Chinese tourists to the Czech Republic to reach half a million this year, there are four direct air links with China and two more pending. In this respect we are one of the frontrunners in the region. There has been a growth in exports by 29 percent year-on-year. Nevertheless, we need to make a further effort to remove barriers to trade. The Chinese market is regulated and many areas are still closed to exports from this part of the world. I hope the current 16+1 talks will send a positive signal to Chinese regulators.“
One of the areas where the Czech Republic would like to find a niche for its products is in the sphere of aviation and it is not leaving anything to chance. The Czech prime minister said his country would like to host a 16+1 summit on aviation in Prague next year as well as one on trade in pharmaceutical products. And looking ahead, Mr. Sobotka said the Czech Republic would like to mark the 70th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Prague and Beijing in 2019 by hosting a fully-fledged summit of 16+1 prime ministers in Prague.
Prime Minister Sobotka, for whom this was the last foreign trip in office, also met briefly with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang and extended an invitation for him to visit Prague. A meeting at foreign ministerial level is expected in the first half of next year.