The president of the Czech senate shrugged off China’s angry response to his trip to Taiwan to offer his support to the island on Tuesday, telling the parliament in Taipei: “I am Taiwanese”.
Milos Vystrcil alluded to John F Kennedy’s celebrated “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in Germany in 1963, saying: “Kennedy said freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.
“Then he used the sentence ‘I am a Berliner’ to pledge support to the people of Berlin and the highest value of freedom,” Vystrcil said in the first address to Taiwan’s legislative yuan by a foreign politician in 45 years.
“Please allow me to pledge support to the people of Taiwan in the same way. I am Taiwanese.”
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Vystrcil spoke the last few words in Mandarin Chinese, for which he received a standing ovation.
On Monday, Beijing lashed out at the Czech delegation to Taiwan, which also included Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib, who dropped the capital’s twin city arrangement with Beijing and replaced it with Taipei.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi threatened that Vystrcil would pay a “heavy price” for his visit. Meanwhile, foreign vice-minister Qin Gang also summoned the Czech ambassador to China Vladimir Tomsik to complain about the visit, which Qin described as supporting separatism and violating China’s sovereignty, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also condemned the visit in a briefing on Tuesday, saying: “We urge the people of the Czech Republic to criticize and prevent this kind of malicious and short-sighted action from Senate President Vystrcil. This incorrect behavior has damaged China-Czech relations.”
But Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said Wang’s threats to Vystrcil went “too far” and said he would summon the Chinese ambassador for an explanation.
Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said Vystrcil, a member of the opposition Civic Democrats, “may receive praise from the US or Taiwan but I think his views may not have strong support in his own country or Eastern Europe”.
He also said he did not think Beijing would act against the Czech Republic because of the actions of opposition politicians.
Richard Turcsanyi, a Palacky University academic and programme director of the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, said the Czech government had adopted a China-friendly foreign policy but public opinion towards China was polarized with most people being strongly pro or anti.
Overall, he said, a recent Pew Research Centre survey found it had one of the most negative attitudes towards China in Europe, with 57 per cent having an unfavorable view.
“I expect that China‘s response to the Czech Republic now would be similar to its response to Norway after Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize – harsh rhetoric, frozen exchanges, and some symbolic economic sanctions,” Turcsanyi said.
“There was an attempt to block Norwegian salmon imports, now it could be Czech beer or perhaps even operations of one of the Czech companies operating in China, such as Skoda or Home Credit. Ironically, both Skoda and Home Credit are owned by non-Czech entities, German and Dutch, so punishing them would be much more costly for others.”