After the head of the Czech Senate said “I am a Taiwanese'” in a speech at Taiwan’s parliament on Tuesday, a throwback to the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s defiance of communism in Berlin in 1963, China slammed him for crossing a red line.
China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has threatened to make Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil pay a “heavy price” for visiting the island. The Czech Republic, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
In his address, Vystrcil directly referenced Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and emphasized democratic freedoms embraced since the Czech Republic threw off communist rule at the end of the Cold War and Taiwan emerged from martial law at the end of the 1980s.
“In 1963, the American president JFK, in his famous speech ‘I’m a Berliner,’ clearly opposed communism and political oppression and supported the people of West Berlin,” Vystrcil said. “He said ‘Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.'”
“Please let me also express in person my support to Taiwan and the ultimate value of freedom and conclude today’s speech … with perhaps a more humble, but equally strong statement: ‘I am a Taiwanese,'” Vystrcil said, receiving a standing ovation. He spoke the last phrase in Mandarin Chinese.
Vystrcil has said his Taiwan visit underscores the “values-based” foreign policy put in place by late President Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist dissident and personal friend of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
Vystrcil’s trip to Taiwan has drawn Beijing’s ire, as it considers the island a part of its territory and opposes words or actions by foreign government officials that could bolster Taiwan’s status in the international community. Taiwan is a self-ruled island with its own democratically elected officials, military, and currency.
Speaking in Berlin following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi denounced Vystrcil.
“If he wants to visit Taiwan to designate it as an independent state, isn’t this a public affront, a public challenge? That is why we must tell and we have told the Czech Senate speaker, ‘You have crossed the red line,'” Wang said.
Maas, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said he had been in touch with his Czech colleague about the Senate president’s visit.
“Europeans operate in foreign and security policy very closely with one another and we treat our international partners with respect, and we expect that from them as well,” Maas said. “Threats are not a part of that,” said Mass at a briefing in Berlin on Tuesday after talks with Wang.
France’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday, “Relations between Europe and China must be based on dialogue, the principle of reciprocity and mutual respect, essential prerequisites for deepening our partnership. In this respect, no threat against an EU member state is acceptable and we express our solidarity with the Czech Republic.“
#Slovakia stands by the Czech Republic. #EU–#China relations are based on dialogue and mutual respect. Threats directed at one of the EU members and its representatives contradict the very essence of our partnership and as such are unacceptable.
— Zuzana Čaputová (@ZuzanaCaputova) September 1, 2020
Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová said in a twitter message that Slovakia “stands by the Czech Republic. EU-China relations are based on dialogue and mutual respect. Threats directed at one of the EU members and its representatives contradict the very essence of our partnership and as such are unacceptable.”
The Czech visit to Taiwan gained the support of 70 world parliamentarians including members of the European Union Parliament, U.S. Congress, parliaments of Germany, France, Canada, Australia, the UK, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Estonia.
The parliamentarians condemned the pressure exerted by the Chinese authorities on Vystrcil trying to discourage him from visiting Taiwan.
“The Czech Republic has the right to develop economic and cultural cooperation with Taiwan and President Vystrčil, constitutionally second highest representative of the Czech Republic, does not need People’s Republic of China approval for visiting Taiwan,” the parliamentarians said in the joint statement.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio(R-Fla), U.S. Representatives Mike Gallagher(R-Wis.). and Ted Yoho(R-Fla) also signed this statement.
While the Czech government has not supported his visit, it has been upset by China’s strong condemnation and has summoned the Chinese ambassador. Beijing on Monday also summoned the Czech ambassador for a telling-off.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petříček said to his Chinese counterpart that the Czech Republic is a sovereign state, reported Radio Prague International.
“We strongly reject these statements which don’t belong in relations between two sovereign countries. Although I did not support the visit as such, I will always defend the sovereignty of the Czech Republic,“ Petříček said according to Radio Prague International.
Vystrcil arrived in Taiwan on Aug. 30 to lead a delegation of 89 people that includes business leaders, several senators, scientists, journalists, and Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib.
During the visit, Vystrcil was on hand to witness the signing of three memorandums of understanding wherein the two nations will cooperate on areas such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, smart manufacturing, and medicine.
The visit will be a carry forward the will of the former Czech Senator, Jaroslav Kubera, a long-time supporter of Taiwan who died of a heart attack in January. Vystrčil criticized the Czech government for its over-reliance on the CCP and believes that Taiwan has created more investment and employment opportunities in the Czech Republic than the CCP has provided.
Kubera had also made plans to visit Taiwan but suddenly died days before his visit. After his death, a letter from the Chinese Embassy in Prague was discovered in his suitcase. The letter warned that if Kubera followed through with plans to visit the autonomous island of Taiwan, Czech companies with operations in China would “pay.”
The letter threatened that Czech companies operating in mainland China, such as Volkswagen subsidiary Skoda Auto and lender Home Credit Group, as well as others, would suffer if Kubera visited Taiwan.
The Czech Republic ranks fourth in Taiwanese investments in Europe, according to data provided by the Taiwanese Ministry of Economic Affairs and reported by CNA, and Taiwan News. Last year Taiwan exported $454 million in goods to Czechia and imported $365 million in Czech products, according to the same source.
Czech President Milos Zeman has sought closer business and political ties with China since taking office in 2013, but his efforts have been hit by failed investment plans.
Vystrcil is to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen later in the week and take part in a forum hosted by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy on the island, according to local media.
Frank Fang, Milan Kajínek, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.