The Czech media website Aktualne.cz broke a story on December 11 that there is “a network of experts, journalists, and politicians,” which has been seeking to “influence the Czech society” by spreading pro-Beijing opinions. The news caught the attention of several members of the Czech Parliament, who announced on Sunday, December 15, that they intend to ask to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate the matter.
According to Aktualne.cz, this campaign was launched in April 2019 and is funded by Home Credit, an international non-banking financial institution owned by the Czech Republic’s richest man Petr Kellner. The article said that Kellner, who was close to the Czech president, secretly funded a media public relations agency called “C&B Reputation Management” to carry out activities to improve China’s image in Czech. C&B is responsible for external communications for the Sinoskop Institute for Contemporary China, a pro-Beijing think tank that was set up in June 2019. Czech media regularly interviews the head of Sinoskop, who has ties with the Czech President and Petr Kellner.
In addition, Tomas Jirsa, who owns C&B, started to operate the Czech’s major website Info.cz in January 2019. Since then, the site has published several advertisement like pro-China articles, paid by Home Credit. Several journalists who oppose this have stopped working for the website. One of them publicly stated on Czech public television that the site “publishes less and less criticism of China, and the cooperation with an important think tank that criticizes Beijing has also been suspended.”
Under the “Belt and Road” framework, China has been interested in central Europe for years. Czech President Milos Zeman has always wanted to make his country “a gateway to Europe.”
At the same time, however, Czech’s civil society is showing strong resistance to China’s attempts to influence the Czech Republic. For example, the Mayor of Prague questioned the cooperation agreement with Beijing based on the one-China principle. In addition, at the end of November, the Czech intelligence service officially regarded China’s influence as a “threat” to the Czech Republic’s national security.
Source: Radio France International, December 17, 2019