lørdag 9. oktober 2021

Why are Czech elites being captured by Beijing narratives?

When it comes to Beijing’s ability to co-opt the leadership of countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Czech Republic provides an interesting case. The Sino-Czech elite capture story illustrates how corporate ambitions are closely intertwined with political relations in the uppermost echelons, and how a small country in the middle of Europe can become a battleground for the narrative about China.

Since its independence in 1993, the Czech Republic has experienced remarkable changes in its official relations with China. The first Czech president, Václav Havel, a dissident turned elected politician, regularly met with the Dalai Lama and openly criticized Beijing for its human rights violations. In stark contrast, current Czech president Miloš Zeman has called for a more pragmatic approach.

This approach has been formed within the narrative of a promising cooperation with China. In all probability, the rendering of this positive picture was also behind the decision of Chinese investments in the Czech media space (the first wave began in 2015, subsequently scaled up in 2020, but was withdrawn in 2021). Unsurprisingly, a 2018 Czech policy paper states that “the transfer of ownership of the media (or part of it) to a Chinese company effectively eliminates any criticism of China.”