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Czech President Milos Zeman and his wife Ivana Zemanova visit the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre. Photo: CCTV

China on Wednesday lauded Czech President Milos Zeman's visit to the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre, saying the move showed "a spirit of respecting history."

After attending the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on Sunday and Monday, President Zeman went to Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province to visit the Nanjing Massacre memorial hall on Tuesday.

Zeman and his wife, Ivana Zemanova, laid a wreath at the memorial hall.

On September 3, 2015, Zeman also attended China's military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday at a press conference that Zeman's visit to the memorial hall showed his spirit and courage to respect history and face the future.

Hua said the Nanjing Massacre was a grave crime committed by Japanese militarism during World War II, and is recognized by the international community as a historical fact.

"China highly appreciates President Zeman's visit to the memorial hall and his condolences to the victims of the massacre," Hua said, adding that Zeman's attendance at China's V-day parade in 2015 in Beijing will not be forgotten by the Chinese people.

A source close to the matter told the Global Times that Zeman proposed the idea of visiting the memorial hall.

He is the first incumbent foreign president, and second foreign head of state following Queen of Denmark Margrethe II in 2014, to visit the hall, which honors more than 300,000 Chinese civilians killed by Japanese troops when they occupied Nanjing from December 13, 1937.

Liu Zuokui, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Sino-Czech relations are at an all-time high.

Liu said that's partly because Zeman is a pragmatic politician and attaches importance to forging stronger ties between the Czech Republic and China.

Liu also noted that Chinese investments to the Czech Republic are growing because of warm ties between the two countries. But because the two country's industrial structures do not complement each other, China will not be the Czech Republic's top trade partner.

Zeman returned to the Czech Republic on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, he met with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong. The two witnessed the signing of the sister city agreement between Shanghai and Prague.

The two countries also signed a strategic partnership agreement in March 2016 aimed at stepping up business ties and investments when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Prague.

Rosy ties with Europe

Three other heads of state from Central and Eastern Europe, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło, Serbian Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also attended the Belt and Road forum.

Liu said China's relations with Central and Eastern European countries are on the rise, and the country hopes to open up the EU market through trade.

Hungary was the first EU country to join the Belt and Road initiative, news portal reported.

Serbia, on the other hand, implemented a visa-free policy to Chinese travelers in January.

According to a report by Chinese travel website in May, the number of Chinese tourists to countries along the Belt and Road routes had risen 2.7 times in 2016 compared to the previous year, and Central and Eastern Europe is one of the fastest growing destinations.

It listed Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia among the 10 countries that are receiving the fastest growing number of Chinese tourists.