Czech president-elect's call with Taiwanese president triggers diplomatic shock waves in China

The Czech president-elect's willingness to meet with his Taiwanese counterpart is a departure from his predecessor's close ties with China.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 16.02.2023 13:42:00 (updated on 16.02.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Are storm clouds gathering over the Castle ahead of Petr Pavel's presidential inauguration next month? They might be, says China, if the president-elect persists in his support of Taiwan, an intent he made clear in a recent phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Mao Ning, a spokeswoman from the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a press conference that the call was a "move that constituted official contact with the Taiwan authorities and a serious interference in China’s internal affairs," according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Czech PM highlights Prague's diplomatic independence

Pavel's call with President Tsai Ing-wen occurred after the Czech politician's victory in the second round of presidential elections last month, which cleared his path toward the Castle. While such calls aren't unusual, Pavel's later tweet about "meeting President Tsai in person in the future" marked a departure from the EU norms, which limit official exchanges with Taiwan to "civil servant or vice-ministerial levels," according to Politico.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala told ČTK that Czech policy towards China remains unchanged, but while Prague respects China as a trade partner, Czechia also has good relations in economy, education and research with the democratic Taiwan. "As a sovereign state, we ourselves decide whom we will call and with whom we will be meeting," Fiala emphasized.

A break with the past?

During most of his two terms in office, outgoing President Miloš Zeman cultivated a close relationship with China. In 2020, however, he made an U-turn and said that he would not go to China to take part in the 17+1 summit of the heads of China and Central and Eastern European countries, adding that one of his reasons is that China promised to invest in Czechia but did not follow through.

On the other hand, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said that it was "in the interest of [the Czech Republic] to strengthen relations with Taiwan and other democratic partners in the Indo-Pacific region," according to Politico.

Prague has adhered to Beijing's One-China policy, which in practice means that the Czech Republic does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. China considers Taiwan one of its provinces and has threatened Taiwan with a military intervention if it declared independence. Yet Taiwan has been operating more or less independently since 1949, with its own government and a democratic regime.

By not adhering to the diplomatic precedent, the Czech Republic could potentially "influence or persuade" other European leaders to rethink their relationship with Taipei, Petr Kolář, a former Czech diplomat who advises Pavel on foreign policy issues, told RFE/RL in an interview. As such, the recent diplomatic exchange could turn into a watershed moment for the EU's relationship with China and Taiwan.

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