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Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping’s visit to Czech Republic raises hopes for European grand canal project

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2016, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2016, 3:15am

President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the Czech Republic next week is raising hopes Chinese involvement can help realise a European grand canal project.

On his first tour to a central and eastern European country, Xi hopes to elevate the China-Czech Republic relationship into a strategic partnership, and bring about 20 agreements, covering the fields of trade, infrastructure, finance, health, aviation, technology and culture.

This will be the first time a Chinese head of state has visited the Czech Republic in an official capacity, and the fifth meeting between Xi and his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman since 2013.

Zeman was the only leader from an EU member state to attend Beijing’s grand military parade in September to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war – a sign that, unlike his post-communist era predecessors, Zeman was moving closer to China.

“Their discussion will likely focus on the One Belt, One Road plans,” said Feng Zhongping, head of European studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

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“As an alternative, China could provide the resources that the much troubled Western Europe could no longer.”

Xi’s One Belt, One Road initiative aims for infrastructure and industrial cooperation along the ancient Silk Road from China to Europe. The Czech Republic is a key location on route.

Ahead of Xi’s arrival, Vojtech Filip, vice-chairman of the Czech parliament, said China would jointly fund the construction of the international Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, a project Zeman has been promoting. The two sides will invest around 1 billion euros (HK$8.6 billion) in phase one.

“This project perfectly matches China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, and could be strategically connected to it,” he was quoted by China Youth Daily as saying.

The proposed canal will be a Y-shaped water corridor from Poland and the Czech Republic to Slovakia and Austria.

The canal will connect the three major central European river basins and eventually link the North Sea at Hamburg of Germany to the Black Sea at Constanta of Romania and the Baltic Sea at Szczecin of Poland.

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The landlocked country in the heart of Europe is keen for better transport connections but is short of funding and capacity for major infrastructure development. Wang Yiwei, director of EU studies at Renmin University, said this was where China came in.

The Czech Republic became the first country in the region to sign the memorandum of understanding on the One Belt, One Road project last November.

With Chinese trade and investment growing quickly in the region, China hopes the Czech Republic can play a coordinating role, said Wang.

China sees the central and eastern European countries as a gateway to the European Union. Last year, China joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a key supporter of the region’s construction since 1991, and proposed a finance cooperation mechanism with 16 countries in the region.

Xi will stay from March 28-30 and visit Prague Castle and the Lany chateau, the official presidential residences in the capital and the countryside, before heading to Washington for a nuclear security summit.