by Yang Xiaohong
PRAGUE, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Czech President Milos Zeman said he expects the Czech Republic would further participate in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and become a transport and financial hub connecting Europe and China.
Zeman made the remarks in an interview with Chinese media including Xinhua before his trip to Beijing to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF).
Leaders including heads of state and government from more than 30 countries will attend the forum's roundtable summit. It demonstrates the world's recognition of China and the BRI, Zeman said.
Besides support at the governmental level, cooperation among large companies is crucial to the Belt and Road construction, said Zeman, who will be accompanied by a large business delegation during his China trip.
In the past years, the Sino-Czech relations have witnessed rapid development. In 2015, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly promote the Belt and Road construction. In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Czech Republic, opening a new page of the bilateral relations.
Of all sectors, Zeman considers cooperation in aviation most "satisfying." Currently, there are four direct air routes between Chinese cities and the Czech Republic's capital Prague, with more than 20 flights every week in operation during high seasons.
"Now we might be something like airport hub for China in Europe," said Zeman. "When the fourth airline opened, I ask them if the plane was full and they told me it's completely full, in both directions, which is important, extremely important."
Zeman also spoke highly of bilateral cooperation in financial services. So far, the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China have established branches in Prague. "We hope the Czech Republic could also become a banking hub in Europe for Chinese banking services," Zeman said.
Calling the BRI a "fantastic infrastructure project," Zeman said, "I encourage Czech companies to participate in the construction of the new Silk Road, especially the railway construction, we have good tradition in this area."
He said the China Railway Express, an artery of international trade linking China and Europe, could largely cut costs of goods transportation, and that it could also stimulate the development of new industries and new towns.
"My intention is to propose the Czech Republic as one of the possible countries for the communication to European countries. And the Czech Republic will not be omitted in the process," Zeman said.
Zeman said he expects more Chinese investment in the Czech Republic, and welcomes companies like the CITIC and Huawei to increase their investment in the country.
"We should further increase cooperation in areas of sports, culture, politics, economy, including the cooperation under the 'Belt and Road' framework," said Zeman, noting that the Czech Republic's two largest firms, Skoda and PPF, have conducted good cooperation with the Chinese market, and that he expects further cooperation in other areas.
On the Europe Union-China relations, Zeman said the two sides should cooperate more to deal with the current threat of trade protectionism.