UNDER the Renaissance ceiling of the Ball Games Hall in Prague Castle, Zhang Jianmin, the newly arrived Chinese ambassador to the Czech Republic, is quoting Xi Jinping, his president. “History always gives people the opportunity to gain wisdom and the power to march forward in some special years,” he says, declaring 2018 “just such a year”. It is four decades since China started its economic reforms, five years since it launched its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to knit together Eurasian economies, and thus a fine moment to accelerate the co-operation between his home and host countries.
The conference—billed as an educational event for Chinese investors—was co-hosted by the New Silk Road Institute Prague, a think-tank that describes its “fundamental mission” as “spreading the awareness about the concepts of New Silk Road in the Czech Republic and other European countries”. It is run by Jan Kohout, a former Czech foreign minister and an adviser to the Czech president, who used the event to extol the assets available for sale in his country. The mostly Chinese audience included influential Czechs, a former prime minister and a former industry minister among them. The tableau captured the essence of the blending of politics and commerce that marks China’s growing presence in the Czech Republic.