Czech-Chinese honeymoon I
Will it bring economic advantage or end in security risk?

Current Czech policy toward China could easily turn into a security problem undermining the Czech Republic’s position in the EU. It has been formulated and even implemented with the help of advisors closely connected to CEFC, a powerful Chinese company with shadowy background used by China to exert influence in the international arena.

In the second article, to be published tomorrow, we will take a closer look at CEFC, its business and non-business activities, and particularly its chairman and advisor to Czech President Zeman, Mr. Ye Jianming.

Photo: Vláda České republiky

In the last two years we have witnessed a massive “restart” of political relations between the Czech Republic and the People´s Republic of China, based on “pragmatic politics” irrespective of values other than commercial profit.

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czechoslovak (and, since 1993, Czech) foreign policy based its new identity on different values – human rights, individual freedom and democracy, as well as opposition to authoritarian regimes. It was Western-oriented and China was not among its priorities.

On the other hand, the economy was liberalized and opened without restriction, including to imports from China, which soon resulted in a huge deficit of foreign trade between the two countries. While the Czech Republic exported to China goods in the amount of 58,511,000 USD in 1999, it imported from China goods worth 564,345,000 USD, leaving the Czech Republic with a negative trade balance (-505,834,000 USD). In 2008, the Czech Republic sold to China goods worth 777,187,000 USD, purchased goods worth 1,243,728,000, so again the trade balance was negative for the Czech Republic at -1,166,009,000 USD. 1

President Havel personally kept a detached position towards China, criticizing the human rights abuses in the country and becoming a friend to the Dalai Lama. Havel also supported Taiwan in its peaceful transition to democracy and even mentioned in his speech to the General Assembly held on the occasion of the United Nations’ 50th anniversary, pleading for considerations to give that country a seat in the UN. 2 The suggestion enraged the PRC’s representatives, who claim that Taiwan is their “last province not yet liberated.”

Václav Havel continued to be a pro-human rights and pro-democracy voice even after his term as president was over, and in 2010 he initiated the eventually successful proposal that Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the other hand, it should be noted that despite Havel’s opinions, the Czech Republic has always maintained standard diplomatic relations with China and neither the Czech government nor the Parliament ever passed any document which would oppose the One China policy in any way. The recent theatrical assertion of the One China policy by Minister Lubomír Zaorálek is thus a matter of rhetorical submission to China’s will, rather than a real change in Czech foreign policy. 3

Entering the new stage

The “new stage” in Czech-China relations started to take shape at the highest level of Czech politics in 2009 when Václav Klaus, then Czech President, held bilateral discussions with Prime Minister of China Wen Jiabao 4

After that, Czech politicians right and left gradually embraced a hope for enormous economic gains through collaboration with China. Since 2012, the year when the 16 + 1 Initiative was established, 5 billions of US dollars invested by China – which would translate into thousands of new working positions and accelerate the growth of the Czech economy – were the main argument in favor of a new orientation of Czech policy toward China. 6

The private business interests behind Czech politicians’ accommodation of China are visible as well. During his state visit to China in October 2014, Miloš Zeman brought with him a number of businessmen, including Petr Kellner, a representative of the PPF financial group originally primarily connected to Václav Klaus. As a result, a new blossoming of Czech-Chinese relations began with a license for PPF’s Home Credit, a multi-channel provider of consumer finance, to begin operations in China. After the state visit, Kellner flew President Zeman back to Prague on his private jet plane, which aroused understandable outrage in the media.  7

In order to formulate and implement their new China policy, top Czech politicians have supported the Mixed Czech-Chinese Chamber of Mutual Cooperation,  8 which regularly organizes China Investment Forums in Prague, most recently on the premises of Prague Castle, the seat of the President. The Mixed Chamber was registered with the Czech Companies Register in July 2007, and from the beginning it was intimately linked to the Czech Social Democratic Party. 9

A Czech man without a security clearance

The Mixed Chamber’s current Czech President Jaroslav Tvrdík was named Advisor on China Affairs to Jiří Rusnok, PM of the caretaker government appointed by Zeman in June 2013. He has retained this position under Bohuslav Sobotka, who became PM after Rusnok. When Czech media criticized Sobotka’s decision, pointing mainly to the disastrous results of Tvrdík’s previous engagement as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Czech Airlines, the PM’s office defended the decision by downplaying Tvrdík’s position as unofficial and not on the government’s payroll. 10

This “unofficial status,” of course, means that Tvrdík is not obliged to go through the security clearance procedure carried out by the National Security Authority (Národní bezpečnostní úřad, NBÚ) 11 which is required for a regular position on the PM’s staff. This calls to mind the strategy President Zeman employed in the case of his controversial adviser for Russia, Martin Nejedlý. 12 However, PRC’s authorities do not care about such details and not only respect Tvrdík as the Czech PM’s advisor, but also recognize him as a representative of the Czech government in all sorts of official negotiations on matters of mutual interest, as is revealed in the Chinese official media.
Tvrdík’s expertise in China-related matters does not have a long history. It started with his involvement in the Czech-China Friendship Association, for which he has served as Supervisory Board Chairman since at least 2012. 13 Later Tvrdík became involved in the Mixed Czech-Chinese Chamber. He currently occupies the highest positions in all these organizations, and in the Chinese media these are regularly mentioned during his negotiations with Chinese partners as equally important. 14

The Chinese Advisor

After Tvrdík had already become an advisor to Czech PMs, President Zeman named his own China expert, a “special advisor for economic diplomacy and investment,” this time 39-year-old Chinese “businessman” Ye Jianming. The position is honorary, like that of Mr. Tvrdík.

Mr. Ye is Chairman of the Board of Directors of China Energy Company Ltd. (CEFC), and he presents himself as one of the richest entrepreneurs in China as well as a philanthropist. A closer look at his personal history and background raises many questions regarding the degree to which he is really running a private business. (More info in the second article)

President Zeman must be aware of at least some of these questions, because he kept this nomination secret from the Czech media until the press conference held in Shanghai during his official visit to China in September 2015, i.e. for more than a year after the official nomination. The Chinese media reported on Ye Jianming’s position in Zeman’s office immediately and in some detail. According to Tengxun xinwen, the nomination ceremony was held in Shanghai on April 2014.  15

On this occasion Zeman was represented by his chancellor Vratislav Mynář. Martin Nejedlý, referred to by the Chinese journalists as Zeman’s “chief advisor,” was present as well. Both men arouse controversies in the Czech Republic due to suspicions of contacts with Russian intelligence, as well as the shadowy sources of their property and power relations networks. Mynář, who – unlike Nejedlý – holds an official position in the Presidential Office, recently failed a security check by the National Security Authority. 16

Published photographs reveal that other attendees to the nomination ceremony included both the Czech and Chinese presidents of the Mixed Chamber, Jaroslav Tvrdík and Chan Chauto. Chan Chauto (a strange Romanization for the standard pinyin Chen Qiutu, giving the impression of a person from Hong Kong or Taiwan rather than from the People’s Republic of China, where he actually comes from) at the same time holds the position of Ye Jianming’s CEFC President and Party secretary.

The interlocking of CEFC with the Mixed Chamber and advisory positions to top Czech politicians has become even more evident after CEFC set up a branch in Prague in autumn 2015 under the name CEFC Investment (Europe) Company last year. 17 According to the Czech media, Jaroslav Tvrdík has become its only Board Member and representative for all of Europe.  18 (The position is, however, not yet mentioned on the website.)

To sum up, Czech policy toward China has recently been formulated and even implemented with the help of two advisors who are at the same time involved in the top management of one powerful Chinese company – CEFC – and in organizations financially supported by this company – the Mixed Chamber and China Investment Forum. Such close ties between top politicians and any business entity would be scandalous. In this case, the situation is even worse due to indications that the company is subject to direct control by Chinese intelligence services, and most probably serves as a tool in China’s political warfare. (More info in the second article)

A Supermarket Czech Republic

Whether private or not, CEFC has become interested in the Czech Republic, despite the fact that this country cannot offer much in the way of energy sector business, perhaps with the exception of the possible enlargement of the Temelín nuclear power plant. According to the company information on the Caixin website,  19 today CEFC also deals in chemicals.  20

We do not know the details of the deal signed in 2014 with J&T  21 and Daniel Křetínský  22 in the Great Hall of the People during Zeman’s state visit to China. One year later, when according to the Czech media CEFC was “shopping in Prague like in a supermarket,” 23 the company acquired two buildings in the center of Prague: the renaissance Martinický Palace, and the former Živnostenská Banka Palace destined to become the main headquarters of CEFC in Europe. In January 2016, CEFC also acquired Le Palais Art Hotel in Prague 2.

The acquisition of the first two representative buildings has primarily symbolic and social status value. Martinický Palace is close to Prague Castle, while Živnostenská banka was the oldest Czech bank, with a history going back to 1868. This history and the richly-decorated late 19th century building provide its owner with the appearance of respectability.

Other companies whose shares CEFC has added to its portfolio include the Lobkowiz Brewery (79,4%), the Slavia Football Club (60%), Médea Group with Empresa Media (minority stakes), and the Travel Service (49,9%),  24 today all advertised on the CEFC website as joint ventures. CEFC’s entering into popular football club management and beer manufacturing certainly has mainly symbolic value and helps to create a positive image of the company as a philanthropist investor supporting Czech traditions.

But CEFC’s acquisitions also have a strategic dimension. Its presence in the media group allows the Chinese investors access to the television channel Barrandov and the popular weekly Týden, which gives them an easy and discreet opportunity to influence Czech public opinion.  25 Commentators also say that through the Travel Service, CEFC is gaining control over Czech Airlines.  26

Security risks ahead

The boost to the Czech economy brought about by Chinese money is still something we have to wait for, and so far there are not many convincing projects on the negotiation table. Only an agreement between Hebei Province and the South Moravian Region has been negotiated so far – a huge spa offering traditional Chinese medical treatments is to be built near the village of Pasohlávky.  27

The evidence gathered from open sources suggests that CEFC and the people surrounding this mysterious company are part of China’s strategy to gain more influence internationally. Some experts call the company part of the CCP “political warfare” campaign targeting Taiwan and its allies.  28

CEFC is well known in Taiwan, where the people involved with this company are nicknamed Jiefangjun shangren (businessmen from the People’s Liberation Army). This connection is particularly alarming given the close relationship between CEFC and top Czech politicians, and indeed the Security Information Service (BIS) in its 2014 annual report mentioned the activities of Chinese citizens in the Czech Republic as a potential security risk.  29

Czech politicians have dismissed such warnings and kept their Chinese advisors and associates, promoting along with them the idea of Prague as the door for China to enter Europe. The usual argument is that this is helpful for the Czech economy, and that it does, after all, conform to the EU strategic partnership with China.  30

However, the EU argument in support of our recent China-oriented policy does not take into consideration the complex relationship and sometimes tough ongoing negotiations between the European Commission and China on issues of both shared values (human rights and the rule of law) and trade and economic exchange (lack of transparency on the Chinese side, widespread violations of intellectual property rights, various government measures discriminating against foreign companies in China, a strong degree of government intervention in the economy resulting in a dominant position for state-owned enterprises, and Chinese circumvention via third countries being the most important ones).

The EU-China Human Rights Dialogue is still taking place, and EU representatives do not avoid sensitive topics related to China’s so-called “domestic affairs,” however toothless their protests usually prove to be. To mention just a few recent cases, the EC expressed concern over the crackdown on independent Chinese lawyers in 2015  31 and the recent disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers associated with the Mighty Current Publishing House known to be publishing books unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party leadership.  32

To give another example, European Parliament did not support PRC in its boycott of the arbitration case regarding the exploitation of South China Sea waters filed by the Philippines with the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013. 33

China’s representatives must be aware that the Czech Republic as a member state of the EU has the potential to speak up on all China-related matters, and that it could eventually become China’s supporter in controversial cases. In fact, analyzing the outcome of the recent “restart” in our relationship with China, one gets an impression that this is the main reason why CEFC has made the Czech Republic its seat and bridge to Europe.

If the presumption that President Zeman’s advisor on China is in fact a high-ranking intelligence officer of the PLA is correct, then the activities of the current Czech government – rather than beginning a new economic boom based on Chinese investment – turn into a security threat undermining the Czech position in the EU, with all the political and economic consequences this could bring.

In the second article we take a closer look at the firm CEFC, used by China to exert influence in the international arena, and its chairman, Mr. Ye Jianming.


  1. The development of the mutual trade between the Czech Republic and China in 1999-2008 in mil. USD, Czech Statistical Office,
  2. Paying tribute to Václav Havel, Taiwan Today, 24.12.2011,
  3. Minister Zaorálek in China: We Have Opened a New Stage of Relations, 1.5.2014, “Both parties respect the paths of development chosen with regards to the situation in both countries and its internal and foreign policy. Again they confirmed that they would stick to the rule of non-interference into internal matters as is stated in the UN Charter. The Czech side respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China and it is fully aware that the question of Tibet is important and sensitive. The Czech Republic has also confirmed again that it follows the policy of One China and that Tibet is an inseparable part of the Chinese territory. The Czech Republic does not support the independence of Tibet in any form.”
    The Press release of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and the People´s Republic of China, 29.04.2014,
  4. Wen Jiabao was the sixth Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2003 – 2013). From 2002 to 2012, he was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China. / 34 during the Prague EU-China summit.  35The eleventh EU-China Summit was held in Prague, on 20 May 2009. The EU was represented by President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic, the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso, and the Secretary-General of the Council of the EU/High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Mr. Javier Solana. Premier Wen Jiabao of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China attended the meeting on behalf of China.” 11th EU-China Summit Prague, 20.5.2009 Joint Press Communiqué (20.5.2009, 10234/09, Presse 147),
    See also Chinese premier’s European tour boosts mutual political trust, pragmatic co-op with EU, 21.5.2009,
  5. In April 2012, the second China and Central and Eastern European Countries Economic and Trade Forum took place in Warsaw, a meeting between the Chinese Prime Minister and the leaders of sixteen post-communist countries ranging from the Baltic to Albania. This so-called “Warsaw initiative” came to be the first meeting of the platform that the Chinese mass media has since labeled 16 + 1. See Olga Lomová: The Czech Republic and the People’s Republic of China. “Good old” relations restarted?, V4Revue, 20.10.2014,; See also Wang Qingyun: New 16 + 1 China-European initiative introduced in Beijing,, 31.10.2015,; Marcin Kaczmarski: China on Central-Eastern Europe: ’16 + 1′ as seen from Beijing, OSW Commentary, 14.4.2015,; Anastas Vangeli: Beijing via Warsaw: The growing importance of China – CESEE relations Perspectives Internationales, 5.12.2012,
  6. Lomová: The Czech Republic and the People’s Republic of China.
  7. Justyna Janowska: President Zeman returns from China on board of a business jet, 29.10.2014,
  8. Not to be confused with the Czech Chinese Chamber of Commerce (CCOK), established on 26 August 1997 by the Municipal Court in Prague.
  9. The president of the chamber is Jaroslav Tvrdík, who is the advisor to the Czech PM (ČSSD) for China. The chairman of the Revision Committee of the Chamber is Member of Parliament Jan Birke and a member of the Revision Committee of the Chamber is Miroslav Poche, a Member of EP, both from ČSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party),; See also Ondřej Koutník, Czech-Chinese lobbyists no more represented by ex-minister Kohout / Česko-čínské lobbisty už nereprezentuje exministr Kohout, Česká pozice, 27.4.2013,
  10. Jan Cizner, Václav Lavička, Czech Airlines in red numbers / ČSA se dál topí ve ztrátě,, 15.11.2006,
  11. The National Security Authority is responsible for personnel and facility security clearance procedures, recognition of personnel and facility security clearances and personnel security clearance certificates.
  12. Martin Nejedlý is a Czech entrepreneur and politician. He is a company director of Lukoil Aviation Czech. He is an external advisor of President Zeman but officially he holds no position, therefore no security clearance from the National Security Authority is needed. Between 2010 and 2014 he was in the leadership of the political party The Party of Civic Rights (Strana Práv Občanů, SPO), closely affiliated to Zeman. See also (-pes-), Martin Nejedlý: What are the entrepreneurial activities of a man who advises Zeman and sells Russian kerosene / Martin Nejedlý: Jak podniká člověk, který radí Zemanovi a obchoduje s ruským kerosinem, 23.4.2015,; (cen), Zeman’s advisor Nejedlý’s Lukoil ended in liquidation due to enormous fine / Lukoil Zemanova poradce Nejedlého po obří pokutě skončil v likvidaci,, 29.6.2015,
  13. The visit of the Delegation of Czech-China Friendship Association of Czech to Beijing Children’s Hospital, 13.11.2012,
    The identity of this association is not clear. There is a similar – at least in name – organization known as the China-Czech Friendship Association, founded in 1958 within the framework of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and its main purpose is to “…promote people’s mutual understanding and cooperation in various fields between China and the Czech Republic.” There is yet another association with a similar name, the Czech-Chinese Friendship Association (Czech-Chinese Friendship Association, with Karel Pech as its “founder and chairman,” and Miroslav Ransdorf as its vice chairman, with offices in Prague and Beijing Jaroslav Tvrdík was still meeting Chinese officials as the chairman of his friendship association in 2015.
    See Hu Yanxin Meets with Czech Prime Minister Advisor and Czech-China Friendship Association Chairman Jaroslav Tvrdík, 2.5.2015,
    In July 2014 an association with the same name as that used by Tvrdík when meeting Chinese officials was registered in Prague by Tomáš Hülle who does not claim any relation to Tvrdík.
  14. Hu Yanxin Meets with Czech Prime Minister Advisor and Czech-China Friendship Association Chairman Jaroslav Tvrdik, 2.5.2015,
  15. Tengxun xinwen, 30.4. 2015, Tengxun xinwen is maintained by Tencent Inc., China’s largest portal in Chinese integrating news, interactive communities, entertainment products and widely-used basic services.  
  16. There are various versions of why Mr. Mynář was not given the security clearance. One is that there are certain people around President Zeman who are being watched by the BIS (Security Information Service) due to contacts that may be problematic where the security of the Czech Republic is concerned, such as Mr. Zdeněk Zbytek, a pre-1989 high-ranking military officer and entrepreneur with good contacts in the territory of the former USSR, as well as Mr. Nejedlý. (-pes-), President Zeman’s chancellor Mynář was not given the security clearance. We have mapped his business and fortune / Zemanův kancléř Mynář nezískal prověrku. Zmapovali jsme jeho byznys i majetek, HlídacíPes, 23.9.2015,
  17. CEFC,
  18. Václav Dolejší: Tvrdík has become the deputy of the Chinese CEFC for Europe. They bought everything he pointed at in the Czech Republic / Tvrdík se stal zástupcem čínské CEFC pro Evropu. A na co v Česku ukázal, to koupili, 8.9.2015,
  19. Caixin Media Company Ltd. is a Beijing-based media group providing financial and business news and information through periodicals, online content, mobile apps, conferences, books and TV/video programs. Caixin Media publishes four magazines, Century Weekly, China Reform, Comparative Studies and Caixin – China Economics & Finance.
  20., 2.10.2014,; Chinese conglomerate CEFC has acquired one tenth in J&T so far. It wants 30 percent / Čínský konglomerát CEFC už má v J&T desetinu. Usiluje o 30 procent,,
  21. „J&T is a Central European investment group founded in 1993 in Slovakia. It pursues business in the private equity and banking sectors. It invests mainly into the financial services, energy sector, real estate, health care, media and sports. The group’s assets amounted to EUR 3.8 billion.“
  22. „Daniel Křetínský is a Czech lawyer and businessman. He is chairman and one of the owners of Energetický a průmyslový holding. In 2011 he became chairman and 60% shareholder of EP Industries, that was divested from EPH. From 2014 he is one of the owners of Czech media house Czech News Center, among others publisher of tabloid Blesk, that is the most read newspaper in the Czech Republic.“
  23. Analyst of the advisory firm Deloitte Mr. David Marek was quoted by the Czech Press Agency: “Chinese CEFC invests in the Czech Republic as if it goes for a weekend shopping in a mall.” Chinese investors do shopping in the Czech Republic as in a supermarket / Čínští investoři tu kupují jako v supermarketu, říká ekonom, aktuálně.cz, 5.9.2015,
  24. Chinese CEFC purchases minority stakes in Médea and Empresa / Čínská CEFC kupuje minoritu v Médee a Emprese, Mediaguru, 5.9.2015,
  25. Jason Hovet: China’s CEFC adds to Czech buying spree with airline, brewery deals, 5.9.2015,
  26. Václav Ferebauer: Chinese finance will help the Czech Republic, the expansion will continue, says economist / Čínský kapitál Česku pomůže, expanze bude pokračovat, míní ekonom,, 5.9.2015,
  27. (bus), The Chinese want to build a spa resort for 2 billions in Pasohlávky / Číňané chtějí v Pasohlávkách postavit lázeňskou kolonádu za dvě miliardy, 22.5.2015,
  28. J. Michael Cole: Unstoppable: China’s Secret Plan to Subvert Taiwan, The National Interest, 23.3.2015,
  29. The Security Information Service Annual report 2014 / Výroční zpráva Bezpečnostní informační služby za rok 2014,
  30. This opinion was also expressed by Petr Drulák, at that time Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under Lubomír Zaorálek, during a panel discussion on China in the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art on May 29, 2014.
  31. EU Special Representative for Human Rights visits China, 16.11.2015,
  32. Statement by the Spokesperson on the disappearance of individuals associated with the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong, 7.1.2016,
  33. South China Sea: Background Note, The position of the European Parliament is clear from article 46 in its Resolution of 14 March 2013 on EU-China Relations (2012/2137(INI)) (2016C 036/20), resolution deserves detailed examination, as it reveals the EU-China relations in great detail and full complexity.
Olga Lomová

Olga Lomová

focuses on literature of Early Middle Ages and especially poetry and translates Chinese modern and classical literature. She also does research on the intellectual transformation of 20th century China. In the past she regularly published artiles on China in Czech media, today she writes mainly for the internet journal Deník referendum.