- Senate President Milos Vystrcil leads delegation to Taipei
- Visit comes amid Chinese diplomatic offensive in Europe
China’s foreign minister warned that a top Czech lawmaker would “pay a heavy price” for visiting Taiwan, exposing continued tensions with Europe even as Beijing sought to push back against U.S. overtures on the continent.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Germany that Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil’s trip was a “betrayal” that made him “an enemy of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” Vystrcil is leading a 90-member delegation to democratically run Taiwan, including Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, a Beijing critic who in January made Taipei a sister city to the Czech capital.
“China will not sit idle and tolerate the Czech Senate leader’s provocation and the anti-China forces behind him,” Wang said. “We will make them pay a heavy price for such short-sighted behavior and political speculation.”
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek told reporters Monday that his ministry planned to summon the Chinese ambassador. While Petricek said the government anticipated that Vystrcil’s trip would draw criticism and was carried out without its support, he said Wang’s remarks had crossed the line.
The Czech delegation represents Taipei’s second high-profile foreign visit in recent weeks, bolstering President Tsai Ing-wen’s effort to fight an isolation campaign by Beijing. Earlier this month, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar became the most senior American official to visit Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic ties to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.
Both Taiwan and the Czech Republic -- a former Soviet satellite state -- “had to struggle to find a path to democracy,” Vystrcil said in a speech at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “I believe that other representatives of Europe will soon realize their delays, too -- for example, representatives of other European democratic countries or the European Union -- and that they will also visit Taiwan,” he said.
Vystrcil told an investment forum Monday that he aimed to deepen trade ties between the two sides, and that Czech entrepreneurs wanted to make connections with Taiwanese businesses. He didn’t comment on Wang’s remarks.
“Taiwan and the Czech Republic are democratic countries with common values,” Taiwanese Economic Minister Wang Mei-hua said ahead of a meeting with Vystrcil’s group. “The Czech delegation is here for trade. We hope to deepen trade ties.”For more on China-Europe tensions:
Wang’s comments underscored the challenge Beijing faces fighting American calls for its allies in Europe to eschew cooperation with China. On Sunday, he urged European countries to embrace “strategic independence” and “play a constructive role” in easing the confrontation between China and the U.S.
The difference between the world’s two largest economies lies in “whether to advocate cooperation or a zero-sum game,” Wang said during a talk at a Paris think tank, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. The U.S. was “standing on the wrong side of history,” he said.
Wang is advocating for China and the European Union to reach a deal on investments by the end of the year on his week-long visit to the continent, which began Tuesday and included stops in Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany. The trip follows a European swing by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who told the continent that China posed a greater threat than Russia.
The destroyer USS Halsey also sailed through the waters between Taiwan and mainland China, U.S. Seventh Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said in an e-mail on Monday, an operation long used to signal American military support for Taipei. The transit was at least the ninth such trip this year, equaling the total for all of last year.
China’s attempts to separate economic and trade discussions from differences in ideological values could face difficulties. Meeting with Wang, French President Emmanuel Macron raised concerns about China’s human rights record in dealing with pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong and ethnic Uighurs in China’s far west region of Xinjiang.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed Pompeo in calling China a “new empire” on par with Russia and Turkey in an opinion article published by French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche over the weekend. All three countries are “sovereigntists on the outside and authoritarian on the inside,” Borrell wrote.
In a piece published to Spain’s Politica Exterior he urged EU members to “correct” economic imbalances with China before it was “too late.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry repeated Wang’s warning Monday, telling a regular news briefing that the Czech delegation was “blatantly” interfering in China’s internal affairs. “We express strong condemnation and grave concern over such negative act,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.