World News

Hainan Airlines to halt Prague flights from March: Czech authorities

PRAGUE (Reuters) – China’s Hainan Airlines will halt regular direct flights between Beijing and Prague starting in March, the Prague Airport and the Czech Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

No reason was given but relations between the Czech Republic and China have deteriorated sharply in the past months following a series of diplomatic spats. Flights to China by other carriers are not affected, the airport said.

“We don’t have any official information why this step was taken,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Stichova said. “We don’t know whether this is a temporary or definitive decision and whether this step is commercially or politically motivated.”

“In forthcoming negotiations, whether in Prague or Beijing, we are going to ask our Chinese partners about the reasons for this decision.”

Hainan Airlines and China’s embassy in Prague did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Hainan Airlines has operated the Beijing-Prague route since 2015 with, currently, three flights weekly.

Relations between the Czech Republic and China took a turn for the worse last year after city authorities in Prague showed support for Tibet and demanded changes to an intercity partnership agreement with Beijing over a reference to China’s ‘one-China’ policy on Taiwan.

The agreement was eventually canceled, and Prague last week instead signed a cooperation deal with Taiwan’s Taipei, further infuriating Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province. [nL4N29J2QS]

An initial blow came in December 2018 with a warning by the Czech cyber-security watchdog over risks about using network technology provided by Chinese telecoms equipment makers Huawei and ZTE.

Building closer links with China had been among the priorities for Czech President Milos Zeman who visited China five times in the past seven years.

But Zeman said earlier this month he would skip a planned summit between China and central and eastern European countries in April, after planned Chinese investments failed to materialize.

Apart from Hainan’s flights to Beijing, China Eastern Airlines operate flights between Prague and Shanghai and Prague and Xi’an, and Sichuan Airlines fly between Prague and Chengdu.

Hainan’s website was offering direct Beijing-Prague and Prague-Beijing flights until Friday Feb. 28 when checked on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Kahn and Gareth Jones)