Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Opinion

The curious case of the Czech president's missing advisor

  • Czech president Milos Zeman with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Zeman previously boasted of their 'special relationship'. (Photo: Czech president office)

The disappearance of Ye Jianming, chairman of China Energy Company Ltd (CEFC), and news of his investigation by China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has sent shock waves across the Czech media.

Ye has been a honorary advisor on economic cooperation with China to the Czech president Milos Zeman - who on many occasions welcomed Chinese investment to the country and has sometimes been criticised for his openly pro-Chinese attitude from by various political parties and journalists.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Clueless as the Czech media have been on Ye Jianming's fate, the most surprising announcement came from the president's office.

After Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing's visit to Zeman, his spokesperson only tweeted that "Madam Ambassador did not confirm the speculations on detention of president's honorary advisor".

Meanwhile, CEFC Europe, in an apparent attempt to calm down the situation, was busy spreading the news that it did not, in fact, have anything to do with Ye, a move which replicated similar announcement by other branches, including CEFC Hong Kong Financial Investment Company Ltd.

Speculation rife

One can, and many did, speculate whether the detention of Ye was a result of an alleged power struggle between Xi Jinping and Jiang Zemin's clique in the party's leadership.

Or an exemplary punishment of a company who borrowed too much from state banks and the development bank.

Or a result of a bribery scandal involving Patrick Ho, former senior Hong Kong home secretary and president of CEFC's NGO branch, president of Chad and minister of foreign affairs of Uganda.

We may find out if and when Xi refers to the case at the National People's Congress meeting, but until then an interesting question arises for Czech-Chinese relations watchers: how will Ye's detention affect the Czech Republic and Zeman?

CEFC Europe, a branch of CEFC company, is not only one of the most important vehicles of Chinese investment in the Czech Republic, it is also widely considered to maintain close links to the Chinese state, especially through the arrested chairman Ye.

Tellingly, Ye was named a honorary advisor by president Zeman at the height of the surge of Czech-Chinese political and economic courtship in 2015 and CEFC was the company which led the 'investment spree' in the Czech Republic in the immediate aftermath.

Besides other companies, it invested in Travel Service, a company which owns Czech Airlines, bought the Slavia soccer club and the Lobkowicz brewery and owns properties in Prague city centre.

It also invested (from 2015 to 2017) in Empresa Media, a company which owns TV Barrandov, one of 'alternative' Czech media outlets whose bias for Zeman has since become notorious and played some role in his reelection to the office in January.

The Chinese state will most likely not let CEFC fall.

Some of its assets are too important and sensitive, like the deal with Rosneft which was promoted jointly by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

If the Chinese state takes over CEFC, it will probably run an audit of CEFC's assets.

Football, beer and TV?

While none of those in the Czech Republic seem dubious per se, it may come a little strange that a company which focuses on energy, invested in a soccer club, a brewery and a TV station.

President Zeman will not be affected domestically - after all, he has just won his second term in office, but the affair sheds bad light on the alleged special relationship with President Xi Jinping about which he boasted.

Xi apparently failed to tip off his arguably firmest supporter in Europe on his honorary advisor's alleged wrongdoing and its implications.

While Zeman's electorate does not care, his supporters in business circles who invest in China and depend on Zeman's alleged good terms with Xi might as well take notice.

Even if Zeman had Xi's ear, as he claims, apparently that does not extend to Chinese leader's mouth.

This time the trouble came to a Chinese company, but what happens when a storm hits one of the Czech investments in the Peoples' Republic of China? In that case supporting the Czech president hardly seems to matter.

Ivana Karaskova is a China analyst and chief coordinator of ChinfluenCE, international project mapping Chinese influence in central Europe run by the Association for International Affairs (AMO)

Stakeholder

China-EU relations in the new era

A new type of international relations is needed to advance China-EU relations to a new level, says the Chinese ambassador to the EU.

Germany says China using LinkedIn to recruit informants

Germany's spy agency says the Chinese state is trying to recruit high-ranking German officials via social media outlets like LinkedIn. It accused Chinese intelligence of setting up fake profiles to lure them into becoming informants.

Chinese hangover in Prague

President Zeman says closer ties with China will finally free the Czechs from EU and US pressure. His allies and opponents are united in scepticism.

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us