Petr Chalupecký was appointed as Czech Ambassador to Qatar a few weeks ago. In what way does he want to develop relations between these two countries? You will find the answer to that and many other questions in our interview.
The Lidové Noviny journal wrote a piece about you recently that mentioned you being a practical and professional person, citing a source close to the Czernin Palace. The source said, word for word, "We do not need a political high-flyer in Qatar, we need a resourceful technocrat." Would you consider yourself to be a resourceful technocrat?
I suppose so. I feel that I have a good idea of how to develop relations between Czechia and Qatar in terms of politics as well as economy and culture. It is a field I enjoy very much and find extremely interesting. I have some experience from the Czech embassy in the US where I also covered American policy in the Middle East during the 2002 to 2006 period, which was rather tumultuous. I was later posted as deputy ambassador in the Czech permanent delegation to NATO, which is the largest embassy that Czechia has around the world, second only to the permanent representation to the EU. Following that, I was in charge of a multilateral relations department at NATO, which was rather complex work involving numerous international teams. And so, I feel that I have gained an adequate amount of diplomatic experience over the years and I would consider myself a technocrat in this sense. And naturally, as a diplomat, I hold no political agenda.
It is actually better when one is a resourceful technocrat rather than a political high-flyer, is it not?
Definitely. Politics is not my job, what I do is foreign policy, defined by other people. I merely implement it.
As the Czech Ambassador to Qatar, I am sure you will be dealing with the fact that we could really use Qatari gas right about now. As soon as possible, in fact. What are our prospects? And why is this issue not being dealt with on a Qatar-EU level?
Those are simple questions that have no easy answers, unfortunately. I am certain that we will have access to that gas sooner or later if we are interested. That means acquiescing to conditions that will be suitable for us as well as our business partners. Because let's be honest with each other, it is supply rather than demand that currently influences the natural gas market, which includes liquefied natural gas. And Czechia and the EU both quite unfortunately neglected the diversification of their energy sources, which has led to the consequences we are dealing with now. Furthermore, these negotiations will not be managed by our embassy, they will happen on the level of governments and private trading companies. Our task will be to arrange and facilitate them. Speaking of coordinating the purchasing of gas on an EU level, I feel that Czechia has done a great deal of work in making sure this idea gets discussed regularly in Brussels. We have to keep in mind, though, that the EU is an international organization encompassing many different countries, all with their own national interests, so it is unclear whether any joint purchasing of gas will happen the way we would like if it does happen at all.
The Football World Cup is set to take place in Qatar this November and December. What does that mean for your embassy?
On a national level, we are aiming to provide the full range of consular services to any Czech visitors coming to see the championship, but also any foreign fans should the need arise. Seeing as we currently hold the presidency of the Council of the EU, our embassy functions as the key coordinator of these consular activities in conjunction with the delegation of the EU, which has also only recently established its representation in Doha, on September 2nd, to be specific.
As you previously mentioned, during your time at the Czech Embassy in Washington, you were in charge of the Middle East, which is a rather explosive region. What do you think could lead to releasing the tensions that have been present there for decades?
Prosperity and a mutual openness of the countries in any given region always help. More intense trade, more open borders. It may sound a little too good to be true, but it does work in Europe, it also works between Europe and the United States... Wherever there is free trade, people prosper and relations improve, which subsequently opens up their capacity to find common ground on many different issues. The second key factor is time. Just look at how some of the Gulf monarchies have changed their stance on Israel recently. That would have been unthinkable just a generation ago. We must also keep in mind that there are specific regions within the Middle East itself. Things are different in the Levant as opposed to the Gulf, which in turn differs from Northern Africa. Each of the different countries has specific qualities that have to be taken into account.
What about Qatar's position in terms of the relations in the region?
Qatar has a very special role in the region as a diplomatic mediator. It was there that a recent peace treaty was signed between warring military groups from Chad. There are also ongoing negotiations about reinstating the nuclear treaty with Iran, which is a very touchy subject. We should also keep in mind the great deal of work Qatar did in evacuating numerous Afghan people who cooperated with the international community and whose lives were in danger when the Taliban took over in August last year. What's more, it was Qatar where the negotiations on further developments between the United States and the Taliban took place. Qatar has had or retains a key role in all of these negotiations.
Besides that, Qatar is also nurturing good relations with Turkey and Iran...
Yes, Qatar has relatively good relations with Iran given the regional circumstances, and I think this approach is paying off. It is not only Qatar that has profited from it after all... But Qatar has strong ties to the United States as well, which is also a reasonable approach.
How does the UAE feel about this display of Qatar's diplomatic agility?
Qatar and the Emirates are countries whose ambitions have been similar to some degree, but I also feel that their rivalry, primarily the political one, has been dissipating in recent years. What I have said previously rings true in this case as well, both sides clearly realize that cooperation will bring more benefits than confrontation.
How would you describe the current relations between Czechia and Qatar?
Our relations are friendly and our countries respect one another, which also means that they realize the different views each may hold on certain topics. But I would say there is a lot of unrealized potential. Qatar is a country with a dynamically developing economy as well as one that is at the forefront of innovation in terms of new technologies, be it communications, energy, digitalization... That is where I see perfect overlap with Czechia's ambitions as a country that also puts great emphasis on developing new technologies. Our countries are at the very beginning of growing closer when it comes to these modern, dynamic areas and I believe that when I leave Qatar sometime in the future, our cooperation will be strong and varied.
That would certainly be a good thing, seeing as the volume of trade between the two countries has not been that impressive. We currently export some heavy machinery, vehicles, and industrial goods to Qatar and import raw materials and plastics. Which specific economic areas do you think hold further potential for Czech entrepreneurs, exporters, and investors?
Qatar is planning sizeable investments in healthcare. I feel that the Qatari have a good idea about what they're doing, they have a solid plan and that could mean an interesting opportunity for Czech pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Furthermore, Qatar is engaged in developing spacefaring technology and there are several startups in Czechia that manufacture components for exactly this field. Qatar has also done its homework when it comes to waste disposal planning, even taking into account the sustainability of the planned solutions. And once again, this is an area where many Czech businesses could come into play. Agriculture is another interesting field. The very specific conditions in the Gulf region require the implementation of new technologies, such as hydroponics and the like, which is something that Czech businesses are also good at. That said, I feel that the potential for cooperation here is massive, be it in the form of joint activities, investments, or the export of Czech goods and know-how.
How do the Qatari people see Czechia?
They see many Czech companies who have been operating in Qatar for some time as good, reliable partners. We have a solid reputation when it comes to quality and reliability and we will have to keep building on that. But let's be realistic, Czechia is not a country that is at the front of their mind, we simply cannot think that way. Czechia just isn't a country with businesses that can take over a market with their goods or services. We have to keep doing our best. Nevertheless, the recent EXPO in Dubai did help quite a bit. Our presence at the fair was a good thing, as was the way we showed that we can produce sophisticated things and export them to boot.
The volume of trade between Czechia and Qatar has been on a rising trendline since 2010 (multiplying five-fold). In 2020, it has reached a historical high of CZK 3.4 billion. Export of Czech goods to Qatar comprised 95% of that number. The most notable Czech items exported to Qatar are vehicles (75%), industrial goods (12%), and consumer goods (10%). The import from Qatar is dominated by polyethylene (69%), aluminum alloys (20%), and parts and accessories for liquid crystal and laser devices (7 %).
(Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
General information about Qatar
The state of Qatar is situated on the Qatar Peninsula, jutting into the Persian Gulf from the larger land mass of the Arabian Peninsula. Doha is the capital city. Qatar is a constitutional monarchy, ruled by the Al Thani dynasty since the year 1825.
The country has roughly 2.8 million inhabitants (2020 estimate), but only about 300 000 of them have Qatari citizenship. Others are immigrants without a right to citizenship and the subsequent benefits. Islam is the national religion.
Qatar has the third largest reserves of oil and natural gas in the world, which makes it an abundantly rich country.
Qatar's influence in the Persian Gulf and the Arab World is much stronger than its size would suggest, which is due not only to its riches but also the influential news and television network, Al Jazeera.
Qatar is ready and waiting for the November Football World Cup.