Feature: Czech people hope Xi's visit will bring benefits

2016-03-27 06:23:01 GMT2016-03-27 14:23:01(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Xinhua writer Bai Jie

PRAGUE, March 27 (Xinhua) -- "The Chinese president's visit to Prague is a very exciting moment and I am very proud that my country is the first and the only country he is visiting in the Central and Eastern Europe," Czech antiquary Oldrich Hejtmanek told Xinhua in downtown Prague ahead of President Xi Jinping's arrival for a three-day state visit.

The visit, starting from Monday, will be the first state visit by a Chinese president since the two countries established diplomatic ties 67 years ago.

As Xi's visit draws near, more and more Chinese elements can be seen in Prague. Chinese and Czech national flags are fluttering along the main streets near the Prague Castle, the seat of the President's Office.

Standing above a traffic roundabout by the Vltava River is a huge billboard with a slogan in both Chinese and Czech: "Welcome to the Czech Republic."

The Pravo, a major daily newspaper, carried a signed article by Xi on front page.

In the article titled "Time to Renew and Energize China-Czech Ties," Xi hailed the "picturesque landscape, rich cultural heritage and talented people" of the country, and recalled his previous visit to the country in the 1990s during which he was "deeply impressed by the hard work and ingenuity of the Czech people, dynamic economic and social progress and the Bohemian culture nourished by the Vltava River."

Calling it "an opportune time for the development of China-Czech relations," Xi suggests that the two countries should enhance political mutual trust and economic cooperation, better align development strategies, encourage people-to-people and cultural exchanges, step up regional cooperation and China-EU relations.

"It is rather an exceptional move that President Xi opted to access majority of the Czechs through the personal article in media," said Milan Tomanek, group head of public relations of Home Credit International, an international consumer finance provider based in the Czech Republic with China as one of its biggest markets.

"I think it is just evidence that the Czech-China ties come to a strategic level which promotes strategic partnership," said Tomanek, whose company has been in China for more than eight years with over 32,000 employees.

For many years in a row, China has been the Czech Republic's largest trading partner outside the European Union and the Czech Republic China's second-largest trading partner in Central and Eastern Europe.

In 2015, bilateral trade was 11 billion U.S. dollars. Bilateral cooperation in nuclear power, finance, aviation, science and technology and agriculture made progress and mutual investment also flourished.

"The visit by President Xi to our homeland sets up an important milestone which makes us proud of being the ones paving the way for mutually beneficial investments," said Tomanek.

He said he believes bilateral ties will further develop within the important win-win framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which was proposed by Xi in 2013 with an aim to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa.

At the end of 2015, the Chinese and Czech governments signed an MoU on jointly promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, which created wider prospects for bilateral exchanges and cooperation in all fields.

For local resident Alena Steinfelderova, whether enhanced bilateral ties can bring benefits to people is what most locals really care about.

"I think many people are expecting that the Chinese president's visit can bring more investment and create more job opportunities," Steinfelderova told Xinhua. "In this sense, I believe strengthening Czech-China relationship is a good thing."

Besides the growing economic cooperation, people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and the Czech Republic have been flourishing in recent years.

The Czech Republic is an attractive destination for Chinese tourists, who made a record number of more than 300,000 visits here in 2015. Chinese Hainan Airlines opened direct flights between Beijing and Prague in September 2015, the first non-stop service between the two countries.

In a traditional Czech restaurant near the Prague Castle, a waiter jubilantly greeted Xinhua in Chinese and proudly showed different martial arts actions he learned from Chinese movies.

"I like Chinese culture and kung fu, especially the Shaolin Temple," said the waiter who identified himself as Ivan.

He told Xinhua that he knew the Chinese president is coming. "People are talking about the visit these days. Hope his visit will help bring more Chinese tourists here," said Ivan.

Calling people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries "the best way to keep the relationship close," Hejtmanek, the antiquary, believes the relations between China and the Czech Republic could be better as the Czech Republic is one of the first countries to recognize the People's Republic of China.

Hejtmanek's gallery has a collection of over 1,000 Chinese works. He told Xinhua that his clients used to be mostly from China but now the situation is changing.

"More local people have begun to understand and appreciate the Chinese arts. I want to show them, especially young people, how incredible the Chinese arts are," he said.

Hejtmanek said he "100 percent" believes President Xi's visit would be a new start for relations between China and the Czech Republic as well as the Central and Eastern European countries.

"This is the center of Europe. What is a better base than here? " he said.

(Xinhua reporters Wang Yi, Meng Na, Wang Fengfeng, Jiang Guopeng and Luo Jun contributed to the story.)

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