China ’s foreign minister Wang Yi threatened that a senior Czech senate would pay a “heavy price” after defying Beijing to visit Taiwan.
While on a trip to Germany, Wang told reporters early on Monday that the Chinese government would not sit idly back after the “public provocation” by Milos Vystrcil, the president of the senate, and slammed “anti-China forces backing him”.
“To challenge the one-China principle on Taiwan is to make an enemy of 1.4 billion Chinese people, and is an international breach of trust,” Wang said. “We must make him pay a heavy price for his short-sighted actions and political opportunism.”
Vystrcil is the most senior Czech politician to visit Taiwan since former president Vaclav Havel 16 years ago.
His trip comes at a time when Taiwan has sought to shore up international support, and as concerns have grown in Europe over how to address Beijing’s increasingly assertive foreign policy.
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Beijing has long stressed that its eventual aim is to bring the democratic island of Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary, and has warned countries against official exchanges with Taiwan that would appear to lend support to Taiwanese sovereignty.
For Taiwan, Vystrcil’s visit marks another diplomatic victory after US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s high-profile visit to the island this month and the establishment of representative offices with Somaliland, an unrecognised African state.
In June China’s embassy in the Czech Republic warned that Vystrcil’s plans to visit Taipei amounted to open support for Taiwanese independence and “intervention in China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Last week, China’s foreign ministry restated its opposition to official exchanges between other countries and Taiwan.
On Monday the Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek responded to Wang’s comments by saying he would summon the Chinese ambassador to “explain those words”.
He told journalists in Prague: “Of course the journey has an impact on our relationships with China, but I think this has gone too far.”
Vystrcil, a member of the opposition Civic Democrats, arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for the six-day visit to strengthen economic and cultural ties and is expected to meet with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen.
The delegation also included Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib – who cancelled the Czech capital’s twin city relationship with Beijing and replaced it with Taipei after refusing to sign a clause accepting the one-China principle – and business leaders.
On Sunday Tsai wrote on social media that she welcomed the 89-member Czech delegation, adding that the two “share many core values”.
The visit was opposed by Czech President Milos Zeman, who has worked to align the country more closely with China.
On Monday afternoon, Vystrcil – who wore a mask bearing the Taiwanese and Czech flags – spoke at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University about the importance of supporting freedom and democracy worldwide, including in Taiwan.
“Believe me when I say that we know very well in the Czech Republic what is it like to live with a Big Brother behind your back because the Big Brother never forgives weakness and mistakes,” he told an audience including Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu.
He also referred to his late predecessor, Jaroslav Kubera, who had come under pressure from China not to visit Taiwan and expressed support for protest movements in Hong Kong and Belarus.
“Democratic countries should also support each other while supporting other countries that are actually fighting for their democracy or that may be threatened by the strong and the powerful,” he said. “Thus, it is our obligation to jointly support Hong Kong and it is our duty to support a free Belarus.”
Business representatives from the two sides signed three memorandums of understanding, including on smart cities and smart manufacturing.
Chinese state media also criticised the visit, with the nationalist tabloid Global Times writing in an editorial on Sunday that Vystricil was a “rule-breaker who is trampling on diplomatic civilisation”, swayed by the United States.
“His gilding for his evil deeds is a manifestation of being a political hooligan,” it said. “Vystrcil is attracting eyeballs and promoting his status by visiting Taiwan.”
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition
Sarah Zheng joined the Post as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from Tufts University with a degree in international relations and film and media studies. She reports on China’s foreign policy.