In 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping invited his Czech counterpart, the ostentatiously pro-China Milos Zeman, to a military parade in Beijing commemorating the end of the Second World War. Both leaders watched as thousands of troops from the elite units of the People’s Liberation Army and Second World War veterans marched to commemorate the defeat of fascism.
The visit symbolised the growing closeness between the Czech Republic and China. Zeman, the only European leader present at the parade, had been making overtures to China since his election two years earlier. It was accompanied by the announcement of a series of Chinese investments in the Czech Republic, including the buyouts of the country’s leading football club, an airline, and a brewer.
The deals were meant to herald a new era of Chinese influence in central Europe. A year after his trip to Beijing, Zeman reciprocated, inviting Xi to Prague. During the visit, the Czech president lavished praise on his counterpart, and announced that his country would become “an unsinkable aircraft carrier of Chinese investment expansion” in Europe, though formally foreign policy was the responsibility of the prime minister, not the president. Further deals were announced.